When the top brass are all at sea

People & Business
BT and Commercial Union will be without some of their top brass in the new year thanks to the BT Global Challenge yacht race.

The year-long jaunt started from Southampton in July and reaches Wellington in a fortnight. BT's deputy chief executive, Dr Alan Rudge, will fly out for the week-long sail from Wellington to Sydney. Commercial Union's general manager, Ian Reynolds, will also join the trip, which has been arranged to coincide with CU's annual board meeting in Sydney.

Lest people think this is an out-and-out junket (which it is) Mr Reynolds has been doing some rigorous training.

He has recently spent five days in Cornwall where the regime included a day sail followed by a four- or five-mile run and a nice refreshing dip in the icy sea.

So keen is Mr Reynolds to play down his elevated position in CU's corporate hierarchy (he is the insurance giant's number two) that he sat his colleagues down at the beginning of the training session and told them he was to be called "Ian" all the way and none of this "Mr General Manager, Sir" nonsense. In an attempt at Archie-Norman style man-of-the-people management, he has also had an "Ian" label attached to his weatherproofs with another underneath saying "Not the general manager".

Michael Spencer, head of City moneybrokers Intercapital, has kept up his tradition of unusual Christmas cards. This year's effort is a full- colour 12-page "magazine" compiled in the style of teenage girls' magazines. Called Mine & Yours, the lavishly produced publication includes a Jackie magazine-style picture story called "Alexandrella - a modern love story in pictures".

This features a red-dressed youngster and her pursuit of her beau at a party. The key roles were played by real-life Intercapital brokers Alex Dunlop and John Cicale. The tale ends with the two collapsing into each other's arms in a romantic finale. Touchingly, the two are now engaged.

Meanwhile, Mr Spencer, who is on holiday in Australia, is continuing his penchant for dressing up in strange clothing. At the Intercapital Christmas party last week at the Whitechapel art gallery, the theme was Friday 13th and he turned up wearing a white tux, black velvet cape and top hat.

The British Retail Consortium has found a new director general to replace James May who is off to the UK Offshore Operators Association. Ann Robinson will take up the post from 2 January in a move which represents a big departure from a largely civil service career.

Ms Robinson spent most of her career as a civil servant including three years in a government think-tank in the 1970s. More recently she has been chief executive of the Spastics' Society, now Scope.

Brussels bureaucrats are making the big switch from American Express to Visa after a change of policy by the good burghers of the European Commission.

Up to 5,000 cards will be issued to the army of Euro paper shufflers who will not notice any immediate difference. Until they come to claim their expenses.

Visa claims its more sophisticated software will enable it to provide mandarins of the Commission with a much more comprehensive breakdown of their minions' spending.

They will be able to monitor trends and check that the drones are travelling on the right airline and generally behaving themselves.

Foreign trips and booze orders will be the subject of particular scrutiny, I understand. The Commission and Visa were trumpeting other benefits yesterday such as better rates of interest and that Visa cards were accepted in three times as many locations as American Express. But the real reason is an expenses crackdown. And just before Christmas too.

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