People and business: UK plc fails to make the grade

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The Independent Online
UK PLC has a lot of ground to make up if the 11 January edition of BusinessWeek magazine is anything to go by. The American business bible polled its 145 writers in 25 countries for a list of "The Top 25 Executives of the Year". Not a single Brit made the list.

The closest we got was under another list of "Executives to Watch" - and that was Marjorie Scardino, the Texan-born chief executive of Pearson. Even then, while the magazine allowed that Ms Scardino had "livened the media group up", it issued a stern warning: this year Ms Scardino faces "the hard part - digesting the recent $4.6bn purchase of two Simon & Schuster units.

"The deal leaves Pearson's CEO facing hefty debt as Britain enters a downturn."

I turned to another American business magazine, Forbes, with trepidation. Its "A-plus list"| of the best 27 companies on the planet, however, contained slightly less dismal news for the UK.

It included two British companies, Vodafone and Rentokil Initial, as well as the Anglo-Dutch Unilever and Anglo-American BP Amoco.

TALKING OF Ms Scardino, the media boss has poached Courtaulds Textiles's 36-year-old finance director, Pippa Wicks, to be managing director of Pearson's newly created Management Education business.

Ms Wicks, considered by admirers as an "up and coming woman in the City", worked at the high-powered strategic consultancy Bain & Company before she joined Courtaulds in 1993.

"I went in for a cup of tea and stayed for seven years," Ms Wicks recalls. "I did not expect to be made finance director." She is not an accountant.

Ms Scardino convinced her that the market for distance learning is about to enjoy explosive, global growth and that Pearson is well placed to benefit. Ms Wicks will report directly to her.

Ms Wicks has two other passions at the moment. "I'm a fanatic for travelling to cut-off places," she says, having just returned from Bhutan. And she is teaching herself the flute.

DON CRUICKSHANK, chairman of the Government's Millennium Bug campaign and recently appointed to head its investigation into the banking industry, paid a pre-Christmas visit to Howard Davies at the Financial Services Authority, down in the wilds of Canary Wharf in London's Docklands.

Emerging from the meeting, Mr Cruickshank said to his aide: "Why don't we try this toytown train they have down here?"

The former head of Oftel was referring to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the office development's only fixed link with central London. Mr Cruickshank and his aide then spent a miserable five minutes shivering on the windswept DLR platform, until his patience snapped: "Oh sod it, lets get a taxi."

The Government's struggle to get the public to switch from private to public transport looks set to be a long and weary one.

KPMG's two senior receivers, Tony Thompson and Roger Oldfield, had a sweet-smelling Christmas. They completed the sale of the name and most of the brands of Yardley, that quintissentially English perfume company that went bust last year.

In a series of separate deals, the perfumed duo sold the Yardley name to Wella, the German toiletries company, and the women's brands to Fine Fragrances & Cosmetics of the UK. These include Tweed, Panache, Lace, White Satin and Chique.

Mr Oldfield says he is in talks to sell Yardley's men's brands, English Blazer and Gold. "There's a huge market overseas for these brands," he enthuses.

Yardley makes a fragrant contrast to another, rather more mundane receivership now being completed by Mr Oldfield; that of Rosehaugh, the property development company formerly owned by Godfrey Bradman, which Mr Bradman used to build the Broadgate Centre in the City.

"SOME PEOPLE doze off in meetings (and who can blame them sometimes?)," says Jo Gardiner in her book "Flying Start", a guide to surviving the first day of your first proper job.

The book, to be published on 19 January by the Industrial Society, includes a list of characters to watch out for inmeetings, including "the nodder", writes Ms Gardiner, "who spends most of the time in meetings looking interested/ concerned/wise/involved and nodding a lot, apparently in support of what others are saying". She adds, however: "They rarely make any original contribution."

My favourite is "the sleeper". She writes: "It may not seem particularly helpful and it's not to be recommended, but they could really feel the need to sleep (if they've got children or have been ill, for example)."