People and Business: Toy story is just a fable

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The Independent Online
EVERY BUSINESS success begins with an apocryphal tale, and the story of the top-selling children's construction toy K'NEX, now rivalling Lego, is no exception.

According to the legend, inventor Joel Glickman was sitting out the dancing at a wedding. Idly bending the plastic straws in the drinks, he discovered that he could connect them together and make various shapes. But "that's just the soundbite," says Mr Glickman, who was in London yesterday for the launch at the Science Museum of his latest, solar-powered, model.

Having decided that the plastics business he ran with his brother Bob had limited growth opportunities, they looked around for other options and hit upon toys. However, the straws idea "didn't work worth a damn," he says.

But it sowed the germ of another idea and became the basis for a business that, since being launched in time for Christmas 1992, has grown to the point where this year retail sales have hit $100m (pounds 60m). Sales to 40 countries around the world are masterminded from a manufacturing, packaging and distribution centre at Ashford in Kent.

Initially none of the major toy producers was interested in a joint venture. Since then, though, Hasbro has become the Glickmans' partner and Lego has come up with the ultimate accolade - its own version called Znap.

Mr Glickman does not see it in quite that way. "I'm damn angry about it," he says. "I could design a better brick than the Lego brick, and I may well do it."

SUZANNA TAVERNE, managing director at FT Finance for just six months, got her marching orders yesterday together with two other senior publishing executives.

The other two to fall victim to the revamp of FT magazines were Jeremy King, publisher of the Investors Chronicle, and Mark van der Weyer, operations director.

Marjorie Scardino, the chief executive of Pearson, brought Ms Taverne in to relaunch the Investors Chronicle. This included hiking the price of the weekly mag from around two quid to a hefty pounds 2.95.

The departures were caused by the integration of three FT magazine divisions into one new division. Instead of FT Finance, Media, and Energy, there will just be "FT Business", headed by David Hurst, formerly of the Energy division.

Other new additions are Martin Burke from Reuters as marketing director, and Jane Emma Peerless from the FT newspaper as advertising director.

Sadly there was no job of sufficient seniority for Ms Taverne, an FT insider admitted. No doubt a hefty pay-off may soften the blow.

IT IS PERHAPS a bit unfair to take the rise out of actuaries for being a bit train-spotterish: after all, they do vital work for insurance companies, estimating how many of us are going to die, of what, and when, and other useful things.

However, the latest issue of The Actuary is a bit alarming. Reacting to a recent survey called "All Time Top 1,000 Albums" which had The Beatles' Revolver at Number One, the actuaries' monthly decided to do its own musical survey.

The mag says: "Some people took the request very literally and submitted the catalogue numbers of their favourite discs; some people supplemented their lists with a full report justifying their selection and providing a range of names that could result under differing listening conditions; and most people chose to ignore it completely."

The writer adds: "One gentleman did suggest that his favourite recordings included The Best of Lulu and This is York, the Sounds of a Great Station - initially I presumed that he was being ironic, but with actuaries one can never be too sure." How true.

BA'S SWANKY new head office just off the M4, called "Waterside" and opened by Prince Charles a couple of months ago, has already made an impact. Local taxi drivers routinely refer to it as "Ayling Island".

No doubt this is a tribute to Bob Ayling, BA's energetic chief executive. This is a lot more complimentary than the nickname for BA's old head office, Speedbird House, universally known as "Birdseed House". How cheap.