The new driving force behind Asda's culture

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The Independent Online
Ian Gibson, Nissan UK's chief executive for the past seven years, is to become deputy chairman of Asda as well. His non-executive appointment comes in the wake of Patrick Gillam's announcement that he is to retire as chairman in December, to be succeeded by Archie Norman.

Mr Gibson joined Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) in 1984. He helped pioneer the introduction of Japanese work practices into the moribund UK car-making sector and has a sideboard groaning under corporate awards to prove it, including a CBE and a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts.

Mr Norman refers to him as "one of Britain's heavyweight industrialists. The single-status high-involvement culture at Nissan has close parallels with much that we are seeking to achieve at Asda."

Bravo. I can't wait to see Mr Norman and Mr Gibson manning the check- out counters.

Ian Harnett, the former UK group chief economist of Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull who took gardening leave a month ago, is going to NatWest Markets as director of European equity strategy.

Curiously for someone who has worked for a French bank for seven years, Mr Harnett insists his French is not very good. Fortunately, he says, SGST used English as its international language.

The French connection continues on Friday when Mr Harnett visits his first NatWest office - in Paris. His permanent office, however, will be in Bishopsgate, just 20 yards away from SGST's Exchange House head office in London. "I'll be able to look down on my previous desk," he says.

Mr Harnett studied and taught at Oxford and had a stint at the Bank of England before joining SGST, and will turn from UK to continental economies at NatWest.

"NatWest already have a very strong team, headed by Richard Taylor, who takes a bottom-up view of the markets, while I will be applying a top- down approach," says Mr Harnett.

Anyone want to plant a forest? David Silar, who runs Highfield Forestry, a woodland investment company based near Edinburgh, is keeping a keen eye on the Government's proposal to create a 200-square-mile National Forest between Burton on Trent and Ashby de la Zouch.

Mr Silar notes there is "a certain amount of money flying about" to fund the project, including pounds 1.8m from the Government in 1997.

"It's up for grabs by competitive tender. The Government is keen to see at least pounds 500,000 spent on planting next year. But when you consider the price of land and the price of planting trees, someone is going to end up with a free forest."

The problem souring this happy vision, Mr Silar adds, is that agricultural land values are booming at the moment - up to around pounds 10,000 a hectare, and the process of selecting the land and gaining approval is difficult.

Anyone wanting to tender should apply to The National Forest company. There's money in them there trees.

Michael Cassidy, the voluble chairman of the City of London's Policy and Resources Committee, stands to receive recognition of his role as chief tub-thumper for the City. He is one of three finalists for the Ambassadors for London title, to be awarded by the London Tourist Board on 19 November.

Whenever some squirt from Frankfurt or Canary Wharf has dared to suggest that investment banks may prefer to relocate away from the Square Mile, Mr Cassidy has been first on the blower denouncing such treachery and trumpeting the advantages of the City.

He's doing it again on 20 November, when he will deliver the 42nd annual Travers Lecture at London Guildhall University on the subject of "London - Capital City in a Competitive World".

Such London-worship is all very well, but I wonder where Mr Cassidy goes for his holidays. Neasden? Tooting?