People & Business: Who's afraid of Psion?

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The Independent Online
DAVID POTTER, the founding chairman and chief executive of Psion, has spent most of the last five years insisting that his pioneering palmtop computer company is not in the same market as Microsoft.

So when Bill Gates of Microsoft leaked an internal memo to the American media this week naming Psion as Microsoft's "Number One Global Threat" over the next five years, Mr Potter must have been pleasantly surprised. Especially as Psion's shares climbed 6 per cent yesterday to 363.5p in an otherwise lacklustre market.

The world's richest man is apparently losing sleep over an operating system developed by Psion which rivals Windows, Microsoft's big earner, and which underpins an alliance with mobile phone companies Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia which Psion signed last June.

Perhaps Mr Potter will now agree they are in the same market after all.

THE AMERICAN makers of the Monopoly board game are challenging UK property tycoons to fight it out in a tournament this month - using real money.

The tournament, organised by Hasbro, will be held in the banqueting hall of the Bank of England on 27 October. Businessmen will fight it out for the title of "Britain's Top Tycoon" using real pounds 10, pounds 20 and pounds 50 notes.

This gives me an idea. Ever mindful of the high cost of corporate advice from merchant banks, why don't those property companies now locked in takeover battles simply settle matters with the toss of a pair dice at the Monopoly-fest?

Slough Estates has slapped around pounds 250m on the table for Bilton. I suggest that Sir Nigel Mobbs, the chairman of Slough, and Ron Groom, the managing director of Bilton, should settle things by building hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane.

Both sides said it "sounded like an amusing idea" yesterday. Let battle commence. As long as I can be the Top Hat ...

ROBERT SPIERS, finance director at Royal Bank of Scotland, was scathing yesterday about rumours that he had asked to stay on beyond his set retirement date this year in order to avoid the affects of a sharp markdown in the value of his share options due to the global market sell-off.

"Absolutely not. I'm retiring a week next Friday, exactly as planned," Mr Spiers told me from his Edinburgh office.

He gave equally short shrift to another rumour sweeping the markets this week that Halifax is pondering a bid for RBS. "They [the rumours] have been around. I don't know where they come from. There are always rumours, though, aren't there," he says. How true.

I also asked the Lanarkshire-born executive whether he had been tempted to return to Olympia & York Canary Wharf Ltd, of which he was finance director from 1988 until it crashed into administration in 1993. After all, the office complex in London Docklands has now returned to profit and is even considering a float. Did he ever think of returning? "No, no, I was busy here [at RBS]," he says.

And he will be kept busy in retirement, with non-executive directorships at Stagecoach and Macfarlane Group (Clansman), a Glasgow-based paper and packaging company. He also plans to "catch up on the gardening and continue with some charity work".

Mr Spiers originally trained as a chartered secretary rather than as a chartered accountant, like most FDs of big companies. His first job when he left school was with the Inland Revenue.

"I've had an extremely varied career - I worked for the tax authorities in Rhodesia, with Coopers & Lybrand, then I spent 20 years in the oil industry with Texaco, British National Oil Corporation and Britoil, working with guys like Sir Alastair Morton," he recalls.

Mr Spiers's job at RBS is being split in two, with Bob Goodwin, former chief executive of Clydesdale Bank (now owned by National Australia Bank), coming on as deputy chief executive of RBS, and Graham Whitehead, Mr Spiers's old deputy, becoming deputy group finance director for the UK bank.

Mr Spiers says there won't be much of a fanfare when he leaves next week - "just a lunch with the executives. I've certainly had enough of those, and I've got to watch my waistline."

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