Switched-on Siemens boss shakes a leg at stereotypes

People & Business
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The Independent Online
Dr Heinrich von Pierer, president and chief executive officer of Siemens, the German electronics leviathan, is a fun guy, it appears. One of my colleagues watched agog this week as Herr Heinrich danced the twist and then sashayed to Que Sera Sera in the company's Berlin head office.

The American head of PR observed: "You wouldn't get this in America. They're all so stiff over there - but this guy is game for a laugh." The occasion was an evening's relaxation during a press trip by journalists from all over the world to see the Siemens home operations at first hand.

The Siemens boss wasn't the only one shaking a leg. Karl-Hermann Baumann, finance director, was seen dancing vigorously with a delightful young female journalist from Taipei. Obviously my prejudices about German businessmen being dour and humourless will have to be radically overhauled.

Earlier at a press conference Dr von Pierer alluded to a recent magazine article which suggested he was beginning to age rapidly, as the pressure of running the vast company was getting to him.The president admitted he felt the pressure - but his answer was to "shave more often and regularly carry a razor" to avoid showing any grey hairs on his chin.

Sunday Business has finally gone into receivership. Around a fortnight ago the company's majority shareholder, Group 2000, also went into receivership, and since then no more papers have been printed and a number of attempts to sell the business have fallen through. Now about 60 staff are faced with redundancy and loss of back pay as the receiver, David Sapte of Begbies, searches for a buyer.

Launched 18 months ago, the paper has failed to appear for two Sundays running. Before that it had a circulation of around 20,000. Mr Sapte says: "If I can save the jobs I will be very pleased. I think we will sell it, although I don't know who to yet. We've had expressions of interest. It might be a management buyout or sale to a third party."

The paper's main banker is Barclays, while Mr Sapte says that other creditors include the Inland Revenue, owed pounds 220,000, and a factoring company, owed pounds 250,000. Anyone interested in buying the paper should call Mr Sapte on 0171 242 6939.

John Goodfellow, chief executive at Skipton Building Society has turned the greed-driven carpetbagger craze on its head - by using it to raise pounds 100,000 for charity. Three weeks ago Skipton decided to insist that everyone opening a new account should make a mandatory pounds 25 donation to the NSPCC.

All the surviving societies that haven't so far converted to bank status are under siege by punters who want to open an account in the hope of receiving a pounds 1,000-plus windfall. Mr Goodfellow hoped that the donation idea would put people off, and enable the society to get back to servicing its existing membership. A spokesman says that while the deluge has slowed, they are still opening 4,000 accounts a week.

Nationwide does something slightly different. Each year it donates 10p to Macmillan Cancer Relief for every vote cast in its annual board elections. The latest election, which everyone seems to think will decide whether the Nationwide also converts to plc status, has just been completed. Nationwide has a pounds 25,000 ceiling on the donation, which it hit last year and will easily exceed this year - over a million votes have been received.

Sir Clive Thompson, chief executive of Rentokil Initial, become vice- president of the CBI yesterday. If experience is important, he is well qualified: he's had top slot at Rentokil for 15 years, making him the longest serving chief executive of any FTSE company since Lord Weinstock at GEC.

John Menzies is preparing to retire from John Menzies. John Maxwell Menzies, (pronounced "Mingies" north of the border, I am reliably informed) the present chairman of the stationery shop chain and great-grandson of its founder, is to step down at the company's agm on 5 September.

It will be the first time the company does not have a member of the family in charge since it began as a booksellers in Princes Street in Edinburgh back in 1833. However, Mr Menzies will retain the vaguely North Korean sounding title of life president.

Retirement will give Mr Menzies more time to look after his farm in the Borders. He is known for his respect for companies that "look after their people" and is not a fan of "hire and fire" management.

Perhaps its just as well he is going, then. John Menzies the firm has just sacked most of the senior management at the Early Learning Centre, a subsidiary that has not prospered since its acquisition in 1985.

Good grief, a funny book about tax. This must be a first. Bluff your way in Tax by AJ Carroll has just landed on my desk, and amongst other things the author has a good go at that much loathed tax, VAT.

"VAT is nothing more than a chain letter," he writes.

This is how it works: first, a forester cuts down a tree, sells the wood to a carpenter, and adds VAT to the sale price. Secondly, the carpenter makes a bookcase, adding VAT to his sale price. Thirdly, the chain continues, from carpenter to distributor, from distributor to shopkeeper. Each pays some VAT.

Finally, all chain letters have a victim, writes Mr Carroll, "usually the unsuspecting man in the street. The one who buys the bookcase and takes it home pays tax on the full cost, and can deduct nothing." A stocking filler for any accountant.

And just to prove once again that fact is stranger than fiction, the Inland Revenue has just published a background briefing note titled "Independent Fishmongers".

The Taxman writes: "This note is the latest in a series which give information on the finance and business background of particular trades and professions."

I'm hooked already...