People and Business: The ultimate stress buster

DAVID KOMANSKY, the Merrill Lynch chief executive, has been under severe strain of late.

The hedge fund crisis, which is rumoured to have wiped out a large chunk of its pension, and a hefty round of job cuts at Merrill must have taken their toll on his nerves.

But Mr Komansky should not despair for help is at hand. I can exclusively reveal that the Merrill boss could be in line to receive a complimentary "Gus Gutz" to relieve his tension. The stress-busting toy invented by a former American lawyer, Larry Schwartz, is going down a storm with nervy brokers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The soft doll, with its huge gaping mouth and removable organs, has become the latest recreational tool for stress-filled trading floors. At difficult times of the day, the pin-striped psychos vent their spleen by putting their hand down Gus' throat and pulling out its innards.

One of Mr Komansky's employees in the Square Mile tells me that Gus is fab. "I've got my hand in its stomach as we speak," muses the gentle trader. "All I have to do is pretend that it is my boss and rip its heart and lungs out." Mmm, charming.

I wonder whose guts Mr Komansky would like to crush. Maybe his friends at Long-Term Capital Management?

ANALYSTS, as we all know, are fearless creatures who speak their minds and are never afraid to put their head above the parapet.

Chris Grant of BT Alex.Brown and Scott Fulton of ABN AMRO must be exceptions. The two top-rated building materials experts had the experience of a lifetime during a survey of Blue Circle's Canadian plants.

After the customary site visit, Messrs Grant and Fulton were asked whether they would like to climb the CN Tower, a 12,000 feet-high beacon in the centre of Toronto. Despite a distinct wobble in their knees, the two action men agreed. But once on top, the two firmly refused to walk on the glass ceiling suspended above downtown Toronto.

"I didn't fancy walking on a thin pane of glass," says the daredevil Mr Grant who denies having issued a sell note on Canadian glassmakers.

The analysts' vertigo left their female Blue Circle host to walk all alone on the CN Tower's top floor. She must have been the only career woman in North America to pray for the glass ceiling not to break for a little while yet.

TALKING OF dizzy heights, there is no limit to the megalomania of Jim Barksdale, the chief executive of computer company Netscape, and Steve Case, his American Online counterpart. According to an e-mail disclosed at the Microsoft trial in Washington, Mr Barksdale addressed Mr Case as "Franklin D.", likening the computer wizard to the wartime US President. Not to be outdone, the Netscape man signed "your comrade Joseph Stalin", adding, "I don't like playing this part. From now on I want to be Winston C."

"Did you ever get to be Churchill?" asked Microsoft lawyer John Warden. "No" came Jim B's regretful reply.

AT LAST some good news for ING Barings' boss David Robinson. His staff are doing their outmost to cut costs at the troubled bank. The post room is at the forefront of the savings exercise. On the latest letter they sent me, the stamp has been replaced by a nice "postage unpaid" message from the Royal Mail. The total saving for the bank will be a walloping 40p to be included in the next quarterly figures. In difficult times, every little bit helps...

ADAM SINGER was yesterday confirmed as chairman and chief executive of Flextech, the TV channel operator. The move follows the death of the chief executive Roger Luard in August.

Mr Singer has been acting chief executive since Mr Luard fell ill earlier this year. The company also agreed an extension of Brent Harman's contract as managing director until 2001.

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