The owl's number is up

People and Business
GUARDIAN DIRECT has attacked plans by Oftel to change the insurance company's trademark 0800 28 28 20 "owl-sounding" phone number as part of a nationwide shakeup of the numbering system.

Guardian bought the number, which it says sounds like an owl hooting, from BT in 1994 for pounds 250 when the company set up its direct-selling operation. Guardian's logo is an owl, and it says the "too-whit-too-whoo" number is easy for customers to remember.

Now the phone authority wants to add a digit (other than nought) between the 0800 and the rest of Guardian's number, destroying the owl effect.

Chris Chadwick, managing director of Guardian Direct, says this could have "serious negative implications" for its business. "I fully appreciate the need for a seventh digit, and have suggested alternatives to inserting it into the middle of our number," he says.

That sounds painful, but Oftel is unabashed. A spokeswoman for the authority said yesterday: "Our consultation paper [on new numbers] has proposed seven options. We haven't decided what to do yet."

The spokeswoman added that they had received Guardian's representations on the issue, along with many others, and aimed to publish a definite plan by the New Year.

SAVE & PROSPER held a party/orgy for the media at the Ministry of Sound club at London's Elephant & Castle on Wednesday night to celebrate ever closer relations with investment house Flemings.

Lithe young ladies gyrated on table tops to pounding "drum'n'bass" music accompanied by dry ice smoke, I am told by exhausted colleagues who attended the bash. Comedian Lee Hurst told a few jokes and hordes of independent financial advisers got stuck into the drinks.

Meanwhile, across town there were equally Bacchic scenes in Regent Street, where they were knocking back the Lapinkuttas.

Isto Pankakoski, the Finnish managing director of Nokia Mobile Phones UK, threw a party to celebrate the opening of Nokia's first UK store. Guest of honour was Finnish ambassador, Pertti Salolainen.

The traditional champagne and wine refreshments were supplemented by a special import of Finland's favourite beer - the Lapinkutta.

The organisers wimped out of serving traditional Finnish white boiled fish, and employed Jean Christophe Novelli, a trendy chef, to prepare his trademark canapes, which were "quite substantial", I hear.

Mr Novelli is also quite a good-looking young man, and a gaggle of female journalists from the nearby Conde Nast offices in Soho turned out to have a good look.

A FRAUD Advisory Panel set up by the Institute of Chartered Accountants was enlivened recently by a choice quote from its chairman, George Staple, the former head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Mr Staple said the problem of fraud was huge and resources to tackle it were limited; he likened the task to "trying to swallow an elephant whole!"

SIMON WOODROFFE, founder of the Yo! Sushi chain of Japanese fast-food outlets, got rather carried away speaking at a seminar called "Winning Strategies in a Changing World" held by accountants Morison Stoneham last week.

Mr Woodroffe expounded on what makes him tick as a businessman. "I enjoy that cheeky little bit of me that wants to blow my customers' minds by giving them titillating surprises and drop-dead good value they could never have dreamed of.

"I like to hire revolutionaries; the world is in a positive revolution and those people understand. We want to be to the dance generation what Virgin was to the baby boomers."

Sounds like Mr Woodroffe would feel at home amid the dry ice at the Ministry of Sound.

ING BARINGS, whose chairman Marinus Minderhoud resigned on Monday, has poached two senior corporate finance bods from Robert Fleming. Julian Briant and Nick Dillon will both be based in London.

Mr Briant, 42, has been with Flemings since 1983 and was most recently director of corporate finance and senior relationship manager. Mr Dillon, 40, has been with Flemings since 1989 but began his career in 1980 - with Baring Brothers.