People & Business: Levene dons mayoral robes

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE CITY of London elected its 671st Lord Mayor yesterday - Lord Levene of Portsoken, the former chairman of Canary Wharf and current head of Bankers Trust International.

Not that the outcome of the election was much in doubt; "You have to be in training for quite some time," as Lord Levene said. Between 1,000 and 2,000 liverymen and other Corporation dignitaries pitched up at the Guildhall to choose between four candidates. The voting figures are not published.

Lord Levene's pursuit of the ermine robes began when he became an Alderman in 1984. He was groomed for the top job after becoming a Sheriff in 1995.

He couldn't have picked a more eventful time to start the Mayoralty on 13 November. He only got his feet under the desk at Banker's Trust a fortnight ago, just as the American investment bank was being hit by the combined blasts of the Russian debacle, the Asian slump and the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, the hedge fund in which Bankers Trust had a stake.

"We live in interesting times," is all Lord Levene would say about the global financial crisis yesterday. As for Bankers Trust: "I told them when they offered me the job that I was likely to be elected Mayor."

The former efficiency adviser to John Major admits that there are big challenges to come, such as the advent of EMU and the introduction of a new Mayor of London.

As for the new Mayor, Lord Levene said: "There will be confusion about the similar names, but we will be doing different jobs. I'm promoting financial services, the other one will be running a massive chunk of geography."

AT LEAST the streets of Lord Levene's City are a cleaner, more civilised places than they were during previous centuries. According to a lively and controversial biography of Florence Nightingale published this month: "In 1855 there were 26 cowsheds in the square mile alone, and 266 cows."

The book, "Florence Nightingale; Avenging Angel" by Hugh Small, adds: "In 1858, London was visited by a man-made calamity known as the Great Stink, when the River Thames proved quite incapable of removing the vast quantity of horrors poured into it."

"The smell was so bad near the river that railway travellers leaving London Bridge station were seized by attacks of vomiting."

It makes the current miseries on the Underground's Northern Line seem quite civilised.

ELEMENTIS, the chemicals group which changed its name from Harrisons & Crosfield in January, has appointed Lyndon Cole as chief executive to replace Bill Turcan, the man who started restructuring of the company in 1994.

Jonathan Fry, chairman of both Elementis and Burmah Castrol, said that the new man, Lyndon Cole, is a chemicals whizz who learnt much of his trade with the formidable Jack Welch at General Electric. Mr Cole, 46, is Welsh-born and educated, and is "very keen to run his own show," according to Mr Fry.

Mr Cole certainly has his work cut out. Elementis's shares have halved since May, reaching a 52-week low of 80.5p yesterday, down 0.5p. They're not alone in that, however, as Mr Fry points out.

On a different note, Mr Fry is also a member of the MCC. How did he feel, I asked him, about the historic vote on Monday to lift the 211-year-old ban on women members?

"I voted against, last night, but I accept the democratic view of the majority," said Mr Fry.

Would this discourage him from attending Lords as often as he used to, I asked? "I very much doubt it," he urbanely replied.

A LEAGUE TABLE ranking countries by how corrupt they are has caused quite a rumpus since it was published last week by the German consultancy Transparency International.

Latin Americans, however, reacted with rather more world-weary resignation to the findings than most. Apparently in Paraguay, which was listed as the second most corrupt country in the world, "it is considered normal to own a car that was stolen in Brazil or Argentina," according to Reuters in Buenos Aires.