Square up to the wonderful world of Weetabix

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The Independent Online
LAST weekend, the head of the most famous unknown company in Britain was knighted. Hurrah for Sir Richard George, chairman of Weetabix. Everyone knows Weetabix, but it has committed that unpardonable sin in the eyes of financial journalists of not being quoted, which is why it is never in the papers (until now). Actually, it is listed under Rule 4.2, for funny little companies, but that doesn't count.

Another reason it is little known is because Sir Richard is no lover of publicity. He wouldn't talk at first - but he had to in the end because I am one of his best customers. I have eaten 25,000 Weetabix in my life, which is a lot.

What did I discover? Well, Weetabix is not a funny little company. Its sales were pounds 218m last year, and it employs 2,481 people, 1,983 of whom are in Northamptonshire. The rest are in north America, although only one of the three factories there, in Ontario, makes Weetabix. Canadians eat Weetabix, because it has always been a product of the Dominions. It was invented around the turn of the century by a health nut in Australia where Weetbix are still sold: they are, Sir Richard tells me, quite different beasties. A group of South Africans started the British company in 1932, and added an "a".

Americans do not eat Weetabix. But they do eat all sorts of own-brand cereals produced by the company's factory in Massachusetts. And if they are in prison in Texas, they have no choice: Weetabix produces all the single-pack cereals for Texan state institutions.

Still gripped? Well, the fastest- growing market for Weetabix is France, where sales are rocketing by 30-40 per cent a year - the French have finally realised that they will never win any rugby matches unless they give up croissants. Penultimate fact: Weetabix are produced under licence in Nairobi, so that expats in the Gulf can eat Kenyan Weetabix.

Last fact: Weetabix sponsors the Lady's Open Golf Tournament, because women buy Weetabix and Sir Richard has a handicap of six. A fact I failed to find out: the correct singular of Weetabix.

THREE London bankers off for a weekend jaunt after signing a $300m (pounds 185m) deal for the City of Stockholm found they had bitten off more than they could chew when they arrived in Spitzbergen last week for a bracing trek through the snow. One of the rare tourist parties before theirs had lost one of its number to a polar bear.

"According to our guide, a couple of Norwegian girls headed off alone and were attacked. One escaped down a virtually sheer cliff but by the time a helicopter arrived and found the body, the bear had already been tucking in for about a quarter of an hour," reported an ashen-faced Charles Lucas of ABN-Amro Hoare Govett. I suspect they would have been safe enough: what polar bear of taste would have gone anywhere near a merchant banker?

Teach yourself guru

WANTING to discover the secret of great success and wealth, a colleague tootled along to see Peter Drucker, super guru to the managing classes. He found the answer, not by reading Mr Drucker's books, but by observing the man himself. Here is his guide:

Have a plausible idea or two, and give them a snappy title. Mr Drucker is fond of management by objectives and, like everyone else, of managing change.

Write them down in a book.

Write them down in more books, with slightly different titles. Among Mr Drucker's oeuvres, we have Changing World of the Executive, Managing in Turbulent Times and his latest, Managing in a Time of Great Change.

Whizz round the world telling the faithful what you have already told them.

Increase your reputation for wisdom by wittering a good deal - if people are prepared to pay for barely comprehensible rambles, you must be seriously famous. Judging by Mr Drucker's performance last week, he's made it. An answer to just about any question was likely to take in a comment or two on modern government, the march of the Far Eastern economies, the various accomplishments of his grandchildren and a feisty, non-too-PC joke or two.

AN ADVERTISEMENT by Siemens appeared in the Financial Times recently. "When the young William Siemens first came to the UK in 1843," it said, "Germans were still very popular." That implies they are not any more. Strange, I thought. Then the War of the Brent Spar broke out: the chaps from Sie- mens are not so dim after all.

Plane speaking

LAST week, Bunhill asked you to think up interesting names for airline business classes. We had plenty of suggestions - thank you. Many of them whiffed of jealousy: for example Clover (Close to Very Eminent Recliners, as in "pigs in") and PRAT (Pretentious Airline Traveller).

I was quite impressed by the initiative shown by my father's cat, who submitted "Got Class" and "Class Class". But I'm afraid she counts as a relative of an employee of this company and is therefore disqualified.

So third prize (if there was one) would go to Christopher Hix of Sevenoaks, who has a hierarchy going from Scumbag Class to Flightbag Class (that's the business one) to Moneybag or Gucci Bag class.

Second is Barrie Wightman of Halifax, who completely ignored our instructions and invented the most exclusive class ever invented. It applies to the back two seats of every aircraft, is called Working Class, and is open only to those who fulfil stringent crtiteria. These include: either 10 years in manual workers' union or 15 in TASS; either 10 years' membership of Communist Party or 20 of the Labour Party; and smoking five Woodbines per hour.

But first prize and bottle of champagne go to Chris Sladen of Ealing, whose imagination took off. He says it is business class that should be called Working Class, while less respectful chaps would go to Iconoclass and the equivalent of steerage would be Underclass. Olympic Airways steerage would be Hoi Polloi, while "those rather exciting flights across the Mediterranean, complete with goats, should have a Sauve qui peut class." Aer Lingus, he adds, in a friendly gesture to the Protestant North of Ireland, should have The Ascendancy. Those at the back of the plane would of course be Beyond the Pale.