People and Business: Lesser spotted hairy high flyers

AT LAST it can be revealed: if you really want to be rich, wear a yellow checked tie with a bespoke suit, drive an open top Jaguar, take Archie Norman as your role model - and whatever you do, don't wear a beard.

These are the conclusions of the 1998 British Business Leadership Survey by KPMG Management Consulting, which polled over 200 board directors of companies with turnovers exceeding pounds 50m.

The survey reveals several differences between high-flying business leaders - those managing companies with a growth in profitability of 30 per cent plus - and lower achievers whose companies have no growth in profits.

As well as the obvious stuff - high flyers tend to be ambitious, self- confident risk-takers - KPMG also found that low achievers are far more likely to wear beards than their more successful rivals.

Can it really be that simple? Well, looking outside the survey, I notice there's John Sunderland, who took over as chief executive of Cadbury Schweppes last year, shaved his beard off and watched the shares soar.

In contrast, Jim Hodkinson led New Look, the women's fashion chain, to the market earlier this year at 165p. Yet the bewhiskered chief executive has seen New Look's shares fall since, closing yesterday at 130p.

Some City folk seem to wear whiskers with impunity, such as Kieron Murphy, the director of corporate finance at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson who masterminded Lafarge's bid for Redland. There is also our very own columnist, Gavyn Davies of Goldman Sachs - but he's an economist, and therefore above such considerations.

Of the most famous bearded heroes, Richard Branson is reckoned to be the UK's best business leader by 55 per cent of the survey's less successful leaders. Only 37 per cent of the more successful leaders gave the Virgin man the thumbs-up.

A significant 37 per cent of the more successful leaders voted for the clean-shaven Archie Norman, former Asda boss and Tory MP, while only 22 per cent of the less successful went for him.

Finally, let us turn to KPMG itself. The chairman of KPMG's London region, Gerry Acher, has framed on his office wall a 1967 letter offering him his first job at the firm, in which his future boss notes that young Mr Acher was wearing a beard at his interview.

"Will you kindly make arrangements for this to be removed," the letter says. Mr Acher caved in, shaved and enjoyed a meteoric career.

Then last year Mr Acher took his Aston Martin DB5 on a classic car rally from Peking to Paris. A "rather rakish" beard reappeared on the Acher chin, and remains there. Faced with his own firm's evidence, how long can he hold out against the razor?

ABN AMRO said yesterday that the chairman of its Global Equity Directorate, Icke Hamilton, has decided to leave the Bank "to pursue his interests in the corporate/industrial sector".

According to a friend Mr Hamilton, 53, "just stopped enjoying it" despite making a pile of money and will now probably pick up a number of non-executive directorships.

Mr Hamilton joined ABN Amro in 1995 when it bought Alfred Berg, the Scandinavian investment bank of which he was then chief executive.

Swedish-born, Mr Hamilton currently commutes between Scandinavia and the Smoke. He will be replaced by Nick Bannister, a former head of sales and research at UBS headhunted by Hoare Govett in 1993. Mr Bannister is already head of equities for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and has been sharing an office with Mr Hamilton for a couple of years. In this time they rebranded all ABN Amro's equity businesses into one entity, with just Chicagocorp, Alfred Berg and Hoare Govett Corporate Finance to go.

Colleagues describe Mr Bannister as energetic and a keen point-to-point rider. No doubt ABN's equity business will get a good crack of the whip.

WHAT DID you feel the first time you switched on a PC for the very first time? A BT survey says the most common emotion was "to be excited" (44 per cent). The next was "baffled" (40 per cent): 15 per cent were scared, 5 per cent bored and 5 per cent disappointed.

Just 1 per cent felt nothing at all. I think I've felt all these over the years, ending up with the last one.

THE CORPORATE finance department at ING Barings has been accused of losing its grip so many times since the Dutch took over that it is nice to see some people actually joining the place.

Richard Burrell, 32, hops aboard from Warburg Dillon Read where he is currently an executive director in corporate finance. Stephen Oxenbridge, 41, is joining from Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in New York, where he is a managing director in the investment banking division, specialising in utilities M&As. They will both be reporting to Mark Burch and Charles Irby, co-heads of developed markets corporate finance at ING Barings, when they join in the autumn.

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