Simply the best? Well ...

PROFILE : DeAnne Julius Nick Gilbert on the Bank of England new girl who, it would seem, can do no wrong
Not many people end up with a top job through the columns of British Airways News. DeAnne Julius did.

A couple of weeks ago, in her regular column, Ms Julius, BA's chief economist, enthused over the Bank of England's new-found freedom to set interest rates independently.

"Even well-intentioned politicians are less able to make fine judgements about complex economic forecasts than professional economists in central banks," sniffed Ms Julius.

Kenneth Clarke, the last Tory Chancellor and hardly a leftish ideologue, would certainly disagree with that. No matter. Ms Julius herself last week became one of the four new outsiders appointed to the Bank of England's new nine-person Monetary Policy Committee. This will help Governor Eddie George decide on whether, say, to raise interest rates a quarter, lower them a quarter or, well, just leave them alone.

She will steer her Mercedes sports car out of the car park at BA's Speedbird House headquarters near Heathrow next month. After a break she will start her new committee job in September. "We are sorry to see her go but we didn't want to stand in her way," says a BA spokesman.

Though she is an American she is prototype New Labour, more concerned about issues of economic growth than with income or wealth distribution. She is an apolitical mainstream economist who seemingly has never met a multinational corporation she did not like.

Indeed she has worked for two of them - before British Airways, where she earned around pounds 100,000 a year, she worked for Shell. The most radical choice she seems to have made was to keep her maiden name.

She met her husband, Ian Harvey, chief executive of BTG, when they were both working at the World Bank in Washington. Ms Julius joined as a genuine yuppie - one of the smart, highly educated twenty-somethings recruited to what the Bank calls its Young Professionals Program. As a first job it can't be beat. Agreeable offices near the White House. The chance to help the developing world and do yourself no harm at the same time. The pay is terrific.

Her rise since has been smooth. Consider her latest career move. Ms Julius, a 46-year-old mother of two, will earn an estimated pounds 130,000 for her job as member of the committee that will meet at the Old Lady once a month to set interest rates.

Consider, too, whether her latest move is not well-timed. Ask BA what she did for the airline and they cite her work on economic forecasting as well as her duties as deputy director of strategy. Indeed the company is quite proud of her role as leader of a team that recently altered BA's mission statement from "the best and most successful company in the airline industry" to "the leader in world travel". Heady stuff.

Her real job has been providing the intellectual underpinnings justifying BA's proposed alliance with American Airlines. Let us be blunt. She is the upmarket pitchman.

Her pitch is, of course, sophisticated. Prices across the Atlantic are set, not as you might imagine, by competition for London-New York travellers. They are set by airlines seeking the Barcelona businessman wondering whether to fly to Boston via London on BA, or via Frankfurt on Lufthansa (whose own alliance with a US airline has been approved).

Forget the fact that BA/American would control 68 per cent of the London- Boston market. Think, well, more global. BA/American has only 24 per cent of the total Europe-US market. This larger market is highly competitive so consumers have nothing to fear.

Convinced? Or do you feel in your waters that if BA and American are all for it, we fare-payers should perhaps watch out?

What is clear is that, so far at least, the Julius pitch has yet to succeed. A year after unveiling its grand design (wheeling out Ms Julius at the Office of Fair Trading and for background briefings for journalists) BA has yet to get the green light in Brussels or Washington.

Despite this, a resounding chorus of approval has greeted her appointment from virtually every professional economist she has ever worked with.

"We considered her one of our best students," recalls Professor Thomas Mayer, retired professor of economics at the University of California, who examined her on her PhD in 1975. Julius went to the University after graduating from Iowa State University in the mid-West in 1970. Her father was an academic who taught finance.

"I was very pleased to see her appointed ... I have a very high regard for her," says Kate Barker, chief economic adviser at the CBI. "DeAnne is remarkably unprejudiced and approaches issues with an open mind."

But is she one of those boffins who resemble experts at the CIA - the ones who used to have such a dismal record of forecasting the coups the Agency did not itself orchestrate?

Consider what she wrote in her 1990 Chatham House book on foreign direct investment, Global Companies and Public Policy. Ms Julius thought that Britain would do well "to integrate its monetary policy with those of its closest economic partners through a jointly managed exchange rate system". The UK, of course, did remarkably well after doing the exact opposite after 1992.

Maybe she changed her mind between 1990 and 1992. That same book, however, contains a remarkable schoolgirl howler. In it you may be surprised to read the following: "When UK-based BAT Industries tried to acquire the US insurance company Eagle Star..."

Eagle Star, American? And gee, Dee, surely you meant US insurance company Farmers which BAT bought in 1988. And you a gal from Iowa, one of the US's largest farm states.