People & Business: How Abbey's chairman broke with banking habits

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The Independent Online
Lord Tugendhat, the virtuous chairman of Abbey National, has a greater interest than usual in the possible deal with National Westminster Bank. His career took him from Cambridge University, where he was President of the Union, to the Financial Times, where he became oil correspondent taking his cue from his distinguished father, Dr Georg Tugendhat, who was one of the oil industry's gurus in the days when gurus were less commonplace than they are now.

While his contemporaries among young Tory hopefuls were standing in by-elections and earning themselves loser tags from which they never recovered, young Tugendhat established himself as an effective communicator on a speaking tour of the US. When the Tory seat of Cities of London & Westminster fell vacant and the supporters of the two leading contenders vetoed the other, Tugendhat was the natural compromise candidate.

Although never a minister, he was Lord Callaghan's choice as UK Commissioner in Brussels when the post fell vacant. The embattled Labour prime minister could not afford to appoint a Labour MP and face a by-election which could have triggered an immediate election and avoided the winter of discontent. But that's another story.

By the time he returned from Brussels in 1985 he had missed the boat for places in Lady Thatcher's Cabinet but he was eminently appointable to British boardrooms. He joined NatWest and in May 1990 was appointed deputy chairman. Sadly for the bank, within a year he had jumped ship to Abbey National when it offered him the job of chairman. Now it has always been an unwritten rule that clearing bankers never poach each other's employees.

Very few people have ever broken this "rule", and Lord Tugendhat is certainly the most senior ever to do so. NatWest is unlikely to bid for the Abbey - after all their market caps are not very different. If the two do decide to merge they will be keen to cement friendly relationships. But I wouldn't bet on Tugendhat as chairman.

Europe's most successful information services company, as CCN modestly styles itself, has changed its name to Experan. The new name was chosen by TRW Information Systems and Services, which CCN bought last November, and after six months hard thinking the board has decided that Experan conveys the right blend of experience and expertise, and the accent on the i emphasises information and doubles as a logo in its own right. It also has the overwhelming advantage it has already been bought and paid for.

These new ersatz names do not come cheap, not least because they have to be processed through every commercial language under the sun to see if they mean something either vulgar or silly. They should also express some sort of association with the company's activities, or at least convey some sort of positive image. Virgin presumably fails one test but passes the other. Even then some of them, Camelot springs to mind, quickly acquire a tarnish rather than a patina of age.

But anything is better than CCN/TRW, not to mention IS&S. This column has anyway long felt the age of initials with their image of austerity and efficiency has outlived its advantages. And as the number of permutations of two and three letter initials gets inexorably used up, so the search for actual names must inevitably increase to satisfy demand.

Even in the age of the car-boot sale when respectable middle-class families (among others) set themselves up as costermongers for the day, buying and selling second-hand goods is not everyone's idea of a growth industry. But Cash Converters, the Australian-based group which has brought the concept of franchising second-hand stores to Britain and recently secured a listing on the London Stock Exchange, has appointed Gary Peters as its chief executive officer.

Mr Peters is a man who thinks the concept has all the ingredients of being the next Blockbuster Video. He should know. He is a former president of grandly named Middle East Development Corporation and, according to his CV, "has 13 years' experience of solid franchise experience, working for top concepts such as Blockbuster Video, and negotiating franchise agreements on behalf of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, Daka International [the contract caterers taken over last week by Compass] and Disney Retail Stores".

No self-respecting diary would be complete without a reference to Halifax today. Halifax was all set yesterday to broadcast the start of dealing live from Merril Lynch direct to the new bank's branches. But the BBC failed to throw a switch to connect the broadcast, and by the time it did, BT pulled the plug to end the show. Halifax's in-house host Phil Sayer's masterly 10-minute ad-lib (worthy, I am told, of Desmond Lynam) was wasted on the empty air.