People & Business

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The Independent Online
Do I hear the rumbles of discontent at the Department of Trade and Industry? The DTI, rumour has it, is set to lose its first senior civil servant since Labour's election victory. John Michell, the director of oil and gas, is understood to be taking early retirement at the tender age of 55. Sources say that Mr Michell plans to pursue a better-paid career in the private sector.

Mr Michell's decision to leave has, according to some colleagues, nothing to do with the change of Government. Apparently Mr Michell "got on like a house on fire" with John Battle, the industry minister. But others pointed to recent shifts in emphasis over consumer policy, with Mr Battle pushing for guarantees that the poor would not lose out following the introduction of domestic electricity and gas competition. It seems that Mr Michell, regarded by many as one of the main architects of Tory energy policy, has been absent from recent meetings with the minister. One source reckons Mr Michell has been "a bit of a fish out of water" since the election.

Mr Michell, a career civil servant, came to prominence three years ago over claims that he had received red roses from Clare Spottiswoode, the gas regulator. The allegations (she did send him flowers, but not roses) came at the height of the "cold war" between the regulator and British Gas. More recently, relations have thawed considerably, a development for which Mr Michell can claim much of the credit.

A heart-warming seasonal touch from the New Labour Treasury. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has departed from the normal departmental practice of putting an ancient snowy oil painting or cartoon of some distinguished deceased chancellor on the Christmas card in favour of up-to-the-minute drawings by children related to Treasury staff.

Two winners, Nicholas Gibbs, aged 7, and 9-year-old Kier Ferguson, were awarded prizes at a ceremony at Number 11 Downing Street last week. Along with a tour of Downing Street, they each got a pounds 50 voucher from Toys'R'Us and had their original artwork framed, gaining an important early lesson in the rewards of hard work. One prize-winning picture shows multi-coloured stars. The other has Father Christmas scattering cash from a sack in his sleigh.

On reflection, it's not a very New Labour theme, but who can blame the Chancellor for being unable to resist such a charming scene?

Charles Fry, the workaholic chief executive of Johnson Fry, is standing down after 28 years in which he has built up one of the most successful financial advisers in the country, now worth pounds 20m, from scratch.

Mr Fry, grandson of the former England cricket captain CB Fry, will have plenty to do, with a large portfolio of his own to manage.

He founded the financial adviser in 1969 with his partner Michael Johnson - who dropped out of the business a few years later - as a two-man business. Within 20 years the company was ready to float, and set about making the company's name as the biggest arranger of Business Expansion Schemes.

It was soon snapped up by London Investment Trust, which ran into severe financial problems. Soon Johnson Fry was the only viable part of the business.

The company was again hit in 1995 when the Government put an end to BESs. Like a chameleon, Mr Fry again transformed the company. Rebecca Thomas, aged just 33, was appointed as managing director and set up the top-performing Slater Growth fund - among others. Mr Fry will stay on for two days a week to give his sage advice on marketing. But meanwhile he's having a well-earned rest in Tobago.

For a thrusting powerhouse of accountancy and management consultancy, when it comes to marketing the mighty Arthur Andersen has always been a bit more backward about coming forward than some of its rivals. After all, when revenue has grown at rates comfortably into double digits for year after year, it is presumably easy to let the figures speak for themselves.

But now, possibly feeling threatened by the Big Six mega-mergers involving KPMG, Ernst & Young, Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse, it has appointed one Matthew P. Gonring to the grand-sounding post of managing partner- communications and integrating marketing (whatever the latter is). A veteran of government and airlines, 42-year-old Mr Gonring will report directly to Jim Wadia, the Chicago-based firm's first non-US head man.

One can only wonder how this "communications management" expert will mesh with John Newton, the jovial, jazz-loving City insider who has looked after the firm's affairs in the UK for as long as anybody can remember and is much more of the nudge-and-a-wink school.