Today's results, with Chinese titbits or cream cheese

People & Business
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The ebullient Sir Michael Angus, chairman of Whitbread, bounced up to one of my colleagues at the results press conference yesterday and assured him: "I think you're better off here than Sainsbury's - the food is slightly better."

It was, of course, Sainsbury's day for declaring results as well. Our retail correspondent happened to be at the rival Sainsbury event, and was able to confirm Sir Michael's claim, describing Sainsbury's fare as "a selection of Chinese titbits - prawn toast, spring rolls, that kind of thing. The Australian wine was good, though."

The reason for Sir Michael's claim about Whitbread's hospitality was revealed later; the chairman's wife Isobel supplied home-made cheese for the reception. In fact it was Cerney cheese, creamy with a black skin, which Isobel makes in the village of North Cerney, near Cirencester. Sir Michael describes it as "a usefully loss-making enterprise" (the cheese, not the village).

Meanwhile Sainsbury seems to be more concerned with recent political developments than with providing lashings of free grub for journos. In particular David Sainsbury, chairman, appears to be very impressed with New Labour's tightly controlled PR machine.

It became obvious yesterday that Sainsbury had discovered its very own version of Peter Mandelson in Dominic Fry, head of PR, who recently parachuted in from Eurotunnel.

Mr Fry allowed just four questions to be posed to the chairman by the phalanx of City analysts at the morning meeting, much to the latter's surprise. Usually such affairs last far longer. Mr Sainsbury may have bankrolled the Social Democrats in the 1980s, but his present behaviour is very much New Labour: "Managing the Message."

While long lines of weary, shell-shocked former Tory ministers trudge around the City's head-hunters, desperately seeking a new job, it looks as though even non-exec positions are unavailable for the election's losers. Tories suffering from such pariah status can cheer themselves up with the knowledge that it works the other way; Geoffrey Robinson has had to resign his well-paid position as non-executive chairman of TransTec, the Birmingham-based castings maker, since he has been made Paymaster General in the new Government.

Mr Robinson has been the MP for Coventry for some years, which hasn't prevented him from also chairing AGIE (UK) and sitting on the board of Yamato Lock Inspection Systems. Whether the latter two posts will have to go as well following his elevation to the Treasury remains to be seen. And will he retain his 17 per cent stake in TransTec?

It will be interesting to see if Tony Blair's anti-sleaze campaign will result in Labour MPs having to cut corporate ties completely.

Far away from the parochial excitement of the new Government, Grand Prix ace Niki Lauda is set to address a big venture capital bash in Barcelona this summer.

Mr Lauda will not, however, be regaling visitors to the European Venture Capital Association Symposium with tales of derring-do on the racetrack. Instead the three-time Formula 1 champion will be speaking as chairman of Lauda Air, the Austrian airline he founded in 1979, with a speech titled: "Strategies for surviving in an increasingly competitive market."

Ken Bignall, who left Barclays in 1995 after 37 years with the bank, has popped up as managing director of Visa UK. Mr Bignall rose to head Barclays Financial Services, which was subsequently broken up, with functions reorganised into different departments. This left him without an apparent job two years ago so he left, a move he says he doesn't regret at all.

Described by colleagues as "well-liked and on the marketing ball", Mr Bignall is a lover of fast cars and football. Since leaving Barclays he has been helping to set up the Financial Industry Foundation, a venture launched by financial publisher Michael Lafferty. His new job at Visa UK is based in Kensington and will involve dealing with Visa's owners, the banks that issue the cards.

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