People & Business: Robinson refuses to crumble under pressure

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The Independent Online
Gerry Robinson, who made his name in catering and is now chairman of Granada, had some sticky questions to answer at yesterday's agm at the Brewery in London.

The meeting was so packed that 50 shareholders, including several of advanced years, were forced to stand throughout.

One redoubtable old woman got up and told Mr Robinson: "The biscuits were terrible. They weren't even baked, they were half-baked. Your hospitality is terrible. I could have done better myself and I am 86 years old."

The suitably chastened chairman responded: "I apologise if the biscuits are not up to standard and I'm very sorry about the coffee too."

But he managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The catering at the agm was provided by "a business owned by Whitbread", one of Granada's biggest rivals.

Another shareholder asked Mr Robinson whether he would continue Forte's sponsorship of the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps, the richest horse race in Europe, following the takeover of Forte.

The chairman was happy to reply: "No, we've stopped that. It was a waste of shareholders' money."

Perhaps there was another reason. Both Mr Robinson and Charles Allen, the chief executive, lost money on the gee-gees at the Arc last year.

Talking of shareholders, no doubt those holding shares in WH Smith will be delighted to hear it has spent a considerable sum of money on changing its corporate logo from orange and brown to blue - and adding an exclamation mark on the end. Welcome, WH Smith!

Offhand, I can't think of any other companies that take an exclamation mark like this. All it brings to mind are George Michael's old combo, Wham!, and gossip magazines such as Now! and OK!

Our own correspondent asked WH Smith at the end of yesterday's press conference, rather churlishly in my view, whether a question mark might not be more appropriate, in view of the company's recent financial performance.

A WH Smith spin doctor reacted by pointing at the door and declaring "Out!" at which point my colleague was bundled into a lift. Disgraceful!!

You may think the US is the home of sharp-toothed, red- blooded capitalism with no time for losers. Not so with CalEnergy, the Californian company which recently won a long and nasty takeover battle for Northern Electric.

David Morris, Northern's former chairman, and the managing director, Tony Hadfield, led the defence and both expected to lose their jobs when CalEnergy won.

Not a bit of it. CalEnergy has given Mr Morris a seat on its board, no less. And Mr Hadfield is being retained in a "consultancy capacity".

This is all the more remarkable considering that during the takeover battle, Northern's spin doctors were desperate to keep Mr Hadfield from attending press conferences, lest his incendiary attacks on CalEnergy go over the top.

Obviously David Sokol, chairman of CalEnergy, has decided that "to err is human, to forgive divine".

Colin Sharman has become the second Brit to head up the global practice of KPMG, which includes more than 77,000 professionals in 147 countries. His predecessor, Jim Butler, had a stint as "head of the world" in the late 1980s. Mr Sharman, 53, is also the only head of a Big Six accounting firm in the UK to be global chief as well.

While Mr Sharman will stay in London and continue as head of the UK practice, a mole tells me he will be travelling more extensively - and using the opportunity to market his home-made wine.

This isn't just any old home brew. Mr Sharman has a vineyard on his farm in Bosmere, Wiltshire, and he makes a very passable white and a sparkling wine, I'm told.

Mr Sharman's other great love is yachting. He's chairman of the Ocean Youth Club, the biggest sailing organisation for young people in Europe.

He also gets a lot of businessmen sucking up to him in his capacity as a judge for the KPMG Businessman of the Year awards. The winner will be announced next Wednesday. Will he get a bottle of Bosmere Chablis, I wonder?