People & Business: Candidates queue ahead of Birch's departure

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The Independent Online
Who will succeed Peter Birch as chief executive of the Abbey National? Mr Birch, who joined the old Abbey National Building Society in 1984, will declare his retirement at Abbey's next AGM in April 1998, when he reaches the company's retirement age of 60.

Insiders at Abbey's head office in Baker Street, London, expect his successor to be announced before the end of the year. I hear that the internal runners and riders are Ian Harley, Tim Ingram and Andrew Pople.

Ian Harley, 46, is currently Abbey's finance director and appears to be favourite at Baker Street. One insider says: "He's got a typically Scottish sense of humour, very dry. The City knows him well."

Banking analysts are not so keen. One tells me: "He won't go down a storm in Abbey's branch network, he lacks flamboyance. That's one reason why finance directors very rarely make it to top slot in banks. But he is a safe pair of hands."

Tim Ingram, 49, is managing director of Abbey's European operations and also heads up the First National Finance Corporation (FNFC) consumer finance division. Mr Ingram is, if anything, a bit too flamboyant, according to the same analyst. "FNFC is a pretty sporty lender, he wouldn't fit the conservative image that Abbey is still trying to project."

Then there's Andrew Pople, 40, a youthful, William Hague-like candidate and corporate planner who's come up through the branches.

Mr Pople used to head up Scottish Mutual, an assurance company Abbey bought in 1992. This then formed the core of what became Abbey National Life, based in Glasgow, which Mr Pople helped nurse into life. He is also a former area director.

My analyst muses: "He's a solid candidate, but again its unusual for an insurance man to make it to the top in a retail bank. There again, the bancassurance ticket might win it for him."

And, if none of the trio is acceptable to the board, they can always go outside the Abbey, like Barclays Bank did with Martin Taylor.

Lord Tugendhat, Abbey's chairman, will be there a while longer. Although he's 60 as well, Abbey's retirement age for non-executive chairmen is 70.

If you work in the Square Mile, now is your chance to bring out your loganberries, produce your peas and flourish your gladioli. The 1997 City of London Flower Show is upon us on the 9 and 10 of September at the Guildhall. Anyone wishing to exhibit should contact the Show Secretary on 0181-472 3584.

There are loads of categories of home-grown produce including fruit, vegetables, flowers, food, honey, wine and beer.

Be warned: competition for the prizes is vicious. And as the brochure warns: "No exhibit may be tasted or in any way interfered with (other than by the judges)."

The fact that GEC has poached Zeneca's finance director John Mayo to be its own numbers man may have a simple explanation; Zeneca's head office off London's Park Lane at 15 Stanhope Gate directly overlooks GEC's own headquarters at 1 Stanhope Gate.

George Simpson, GEC's chief executive, could have waited outside his front door and button-holed Mr Mayo, waving a fistful of fivers. Sir David Barnes, Zeneca's chief executive, admits that "we each see the other lot coming and going - but there's no more interaction than that". Perhaps Sir David is being naive.

Mr Mayo, a 41-year-old corporate finance whizz, certainly isn't moving to improve his working surroundings. Zeneca's head office is a recently refurbished Victorian palace of a building, all pillars and porticos, while the GEC Lubiyanka across the way looks like a drab concrete shoe box from one of the less scenic parts of the West Midlands.

City punters are keen to see Mr Mayo put his well-known dealmaking skills to use dismembering Arnold Weinstock's sclerotic empire, which includes over 400 subsidiaries. Mr Mayo originally trained as an accountant and honed his corporate finance skills at SG Warburg, before it was swallowed by SBC.

Warburg insiders recall there were two John Mayo's at the bank in the 1980s. In order to avoid confusion they had to refer to "Old Mr Mayo," who was head of compliance and a distinguished former senior partner of City law firm Freshfields; and "Young Mr Mayo", the Young Turk in corporate finance.

Mayo junior had several good corporate clients at that time, including Pentland, which he helped steer through its lucrative ownership of Reebok, the trainers manufacturer.

Sir David Scholey, then head of Warburg, seconded Mr Mayo in October 1990 to ICI and following the split he was invited to stay on at Zeneca as their beancounter in chief.

Sir David says he enjoyed working with Mr Mayo. "The intellectual challenge at GEC just across the street had an irresistible magnetic pull for him."