People & Business

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"It's the end of an era", one seasoned City campaigner murmured yesterday, as the banks finally pulled the plug on Brent Walker.

It had to happen, really. The pubs to betting shops group founded by "Gorgeous" George Walker entered that twilight world of "the work-out" six years ago, groaning under debts of pounds 1.4bn. Now its in receivership.

At the beginning of this month the present management sold off the last big asset, the 1,700-strong William Hill betting shop chain, to Nomura. The Pubmaster group was sold over a year ago.

So at 7.30 yesterday morning Scott Barnes and Martin Ellis of accountants Grant Thornton were sent in as receivers to flog off the remaining bits and pieces.

Mr Walker, the former East End boxer, was thrown out by the banks years ago. The last chief executive, John Leach, was sacked by the receivers along with the rest of the remaining board yesterday. As one City hand put it, "Mr Leach has done a wonderful job for the banks by getting back around pounds 1bn for them. So if anyone out there has a job for Mr Leach, that would be a great Christmas present for him."

Brent Walker's banks, led by Standard Chartered and Lloyds Bank, are still left with a bill for unpaid interest of around half a billion. No Yuletide stocking fillers for them, I fear.

Scott Barnes didn't want to talk too much about the worth of the remaining bits to be sold off, since Brent Walker's bonds are still traded on the secondary debt markets. All I would say is, don't get too excited.

Barrie Stephens is so keen to more to his new house in Florida that he has brought forward his retirement date from the chairmanship of Siebe, the engineering group, from May to February. Mr Stephens will be 70 next year, having been with the company for 35 years, so I can't really blame him. Industrial control systems can lose their allure after a bit.

Mr Stephen's successor-designate Colin Marshall, as announced last July, is an exceedingly busy bee, and cannot take the helm at Siebe until he has completed his Presidency of the CBI. Lest anyone forget, Mr Marshall is also chairman of Britiah Airways, deputy chairman of BT and chairman of Inchcape. Not to worry, Philip Beck, a board member of Siebe, has stepped forward to act as an interim chairman until Mr Marshall is ready.

More deck chair shuffling on the good ship Abbey National pending Peter Birch's retirement next March. The former building society has appointed one of the youngest finance directors in the FTSE 100 index. Congratulations to Mark Pain, a born and bred Brummie, who is currently group financial controller.

Mr Pain has been working for the chief executive designate Ian Harley for two and a half years, following a career with Deloitte & Touche and the TSB. Mr Pain puts his youthful success down to "a balanced portfolio of skills, a clear vision of the organisation and a lot of hard work."

He does have an Achilles Heel, however: "Tragically I'm a Manchester City supporter."

Other management changes at Abbey include Andrew Pople, managing director, retail, who is assuming responsibility for general insurance business. Mr Pople masterminded the acquisition of Scottish Mutual. His nick-name at Abbey is "love child", because, I'm told, colleagues were jealous at his rapid (and fully deserved) rise to prominence.

The glossy solicitors' magazine Legal Business has just published its annual Christmas Quiz. The last question reads: "Which City lawyers are known as

a) Swinging Dick

b) Hissing Sid

c) The Flying Fornicator

d) Bedwetting Bob?"

I can't wait for the answers.

WH Brakspear, the brewing and pub company, has hired David Gyle-Thompson, chairman of Whittard of Chealse, to groom the company for a market listing. Jim Burrows, Brakspear's chief executive, said that mr Gyle-Thompson was the man for the job since he had just led the tea and coffee retailer through its own flotation. Brakspear has also appointed Roger Budd to run its managed estate. Mr Budd and Burrows are old buddies from the days when they both worked for Whitbread.

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