People & Business: Suits give way, but not to jeans

OVER 4,500 staff at Direct Line's call centres from Croydon to Glasgow began enjoying the benefits yesterday of a relaxation of the official dress code from "Business Dress" to "Business Casual".

Ian Chippendale, the chief executive of Direct Line, Royal Bank of Scotland's phone insurance operation, sent a memo to all staff this week telling them that suits and ties for men, for instance, were no longer de rigueur.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that the decision was based on Mr Chippendale's "firm belief that casual dress will help to keep barriers down between staff, and will help team building in a more relaxed environment".

But that doesn't mean jeans, boiler suits or kaftans. Staff should wear "appropriate" dress, said the spokeswoman, which could include more formal outfits if external visitors are expected at the work place. I can't wait to see Mr Chippendale in a Pringle pullover and beige flares.

JOHN VICKERS, the new boy on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, was up in front of the Treasury Select Committee yesterday to face questions about his appointment. The MPs were particularly interested in his time as investment bursar at Nuffield College, Oxford.

When asked whether he was a successful investor, Mr Vickers replied that the college "made a large amount of money due to the decisions made by my predecessor".

Sir Peter Lloyd MP (Con, Fareham) chipped in: "Just like the Chancellor", to guffaws from the assembled MPs - of all political hues.

Mr Vickers did subsequently admit, under questioning, that he lost money in the stock market crash of October 1987, but there again, so did most people.

ARGUMENTS continue to rage about the merits of the merger mania now sweeping investment banks, but it certainly shakes the staff up: two big cheeses from recently merged outfits announced new jobs yesterday.

Entirely coincidentally, Conor Killeen said he was leaving UBS to be Dresdner Kleinwort Benson's Global Head of Equity Capital Markets, while Thomas M (Terry) Fitzgerald III is departing Salomon Smith Barney to join Schroders - as Global Head of Equity Capital Markets.

Conor Killeen was quite clear about his reasons for jumping ship. "I was very enthusiastic about the merger [between UBS and SBC] at the beginning. But somewhere along the way I lost faith in the new guys."

While Mr Killeen thinks the new SBC/UBS combination is "fantastic, and will work out", he decided back in January to get a new job, and in the process talked to "an awful lot of banks".

He's looking forward to joining the DKB team, where he will report to Tim Shacklock, global head of corporate finance, and Alan Yarrow, global head of equities.

"The US guys will tell you that there is only one game in town at the moment and that's Europe. These guys (at DKB) have got Germany nailed and they've got the UK nailed," enthused Conor.

Joining him will be Olivier Favre-Gilly, also previously with UBS, and Fabian French, formerly with Merrill Lynch, as directors in equity capital markets.

Meanwhile Terry Fitzgerald III is joining Schroders after the Salomons merger with Wall Street rival Smith Barney last September.

Mr Fitzgerald, 39, has spent all his working life, spanning 16 years, working for Salomons, so leaving is a big step.

Richard Broadbent, group managing director of corporate finance at Schroders, said they believed Mr Fitzgerald would be a good team player. Having stayed at the same bank for so long, he obviously didn't "flip from job to job - we like that," said Mr Broadbent.

The Schroders boss is proud of his bank's stability relative to the turbulence in the rest of the sector. "You don't build businesses by hiring and firing. Consistency is incredibly important for our corporate customers," said Mr Broadbent.

IMPRESS your friends with this amazing fact: the capitalisation of all stock markets in Asia and Australasia, excluding Japan, is now less than that of the Netherlands.

PREMIER FARNELL, the global distributor of electronic components which issued a profit warning yesterday, has got a new chief executive. John Hirst, 45, is leaving his post as Officer to the ICI Executive at its global head office in London to join Premier at the beginning of next month.

One leading City analyst was unimpressed. "He's a bit of a lightweight. I can't believe there has been a big sigh of relief at the appointment of a 45-year-old relative unknown to head the company."

Harsh, considering Mr Hirst has been ICI's Group Treasurer and moulded ICI Autocolor into a global force to be reckoned with (it says here). There again, it's a harsh world.