Standard Life's rising star reappears at RBS

People & Business
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Benny Higgins, the 36-year-old rising star who unexpectedly resigned as top sales manager for Standard Life in June for personal reasons, has popped up at Royal Bank of Scotland, where he has been given the job of sorting out the Birmingham Midshires acquisition.

Mr Higgins' resignation from the insurance giant came a day after that of John Thomson, then Standard Life's chief investment manager. Sadly Mr Higgins was on holiday yesterday, so was unavailable to shed light on the subject.

From next month the former captain of the Celtic youth team will "lead the project to derive maximum benefits from the acquisition of Birmingham Midshires Building Society". Personally I think Mr Higgins, described by colleagues as "surprisingly witty for an actuary", sees himself as another Martin Taylor. Watch out, George Mathewson.

Richard Branson is overwhelmingly the most popular choice for Best UK Business Leader, followed far behind by Sir John Harvey-Jones, Lord Hanson and Archie Norman. This is the verdict from 200 managing directors and finance directors polled by KPMG in the accountancy firm's second British Business Leadership Survey.

Which is a bit worrying, when you consider that Sir John and Lord Hanson are the wrong side of 70, and the former hasn't managed anything for at least seven years.

Another bizarre finding: 11 per cent of those polled are anti-technology luddites, saying: "I have people to do that for me." Another 38 per cent simply say: "I know where the on/off switch is." A measly 3 per cent admit to having high computer skills.

How intriguing to hear a story in which sleepy old Auntie Beeb has got one over on Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB for a change. The BBC's forthcoming 24-hour news channel has just poached glamorous presenter Sarah Montague from Sky News, Mr Murdoch's own round-the-clock news service. Other BBC presenters will include the veteran foreign correspondents John Simpson and Charles Wheeler.

Jefferson Smurfitt, the Dublin-based paper group, has recruited a former governor of Illinois as a non-executive director, reflecting the recycling specialist's big ambitions across the water. James R Thompson, 61, served a record four terms as governor from 1977 to 1991 and was a US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, where he argued more than 200 cases. Sounds like a useful person to have on board in that most litigious of countries.

I never knew DIY had been around for so long until I traced the history of AG Stanley, which Boots has just sold to a venture capital company.

AG Stanley owns two DIY chains, Fads and Homestyle. Alec Stanley started the ball rolling in 1945 when he opened his first DIY shop, Bargain Wall Papers in Bromley, Kent. People were coming back from the Second World War and needed to do up their dilapidated homes cheaply. Mr Stanley had a nose for the market and in 1946 he was joined by his son, Malcolm, and opened another shop. In the 1950s Mr Stanley embraced the idea of pile 'em high, sell 'em low, becoming the first DIY shop owner to sell paint by the gallon. In the 1960s he rebadged some of his stores as Fads - Fine Arts Discount Stores.

Mr Stanley took the company public in 1974. By then he had 200 stores. He then bought 80 stores under the Decor Mecca label from Blakely Morris Group and 90 Decor Market shops from Berger Paints.

Then in 1980 our hero bought the Victoria Mills' wall coverings factory at Holmes Chapel from Crown Wall Coverings, and Mr Stanley launched a group of small ironmongers' shops called Mr Stanley.

More acquisitions followed - the Jacoa paint factory in Southall and the Home Charm chain of shops from Harris Queensway. By 1988 he had eight different store facias under his control. Then he sold out to Ward White, which was bought by Boots the following year.

So did Mr Stanley retire to Barbados to spend his loot? Not a chance. The Stanley family launched another DIY chain called Focus DIY. Talk about sticking to your core business.