White knights at large as British business leaders gather in gongs: Brian Pearse rewarded for work at Midland, and now it's Sir Iain Vallance that BT answers to

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The Independent Online
BRIAN PEARSE, chief executive of Midland Bank, and Iain Vallance, chairman of BT, are among the businessmen rewarded in the New Year honours list. Both have been granted knighthoods.

For Mr Pearse, much appreciated in the banking community for his directness and common sense, the honour marks his achievement in steering Midland out of trouble after the Bank of England sent him there from Barclays in March 1991.

Mr Pearse will be retiring in March. Insiders say he is leaving because of friction with the dour Sir William Purves, chairman of the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, following HSBC's takeover of Midland in 1992. There have been no complaints from the banker himself.

Many had expected Mr Pearse to become Midland's next chairman. Sir William now gets that job.

Mr Pearse has at least got the knighthood, and he wants to use his retirement to join the battle against youth unemployment. He is said to have received a number of approaches from companies wanting to use his experience at board level, and the knighthood will not lessen his attractions.

Mr Vallance, the standard-bearer of the UK privatisation programme, also gets a knighthood for his work at BT, which has undergone a painful rationalisation programme. Old colleagues of Mr Vallance from the days when he worked in the finance department at the Post Office recall that he always thought of himself as a high- flyer. His opinion has been confirmed.

Michael Perry, the very low-profile chairman of Unilever, is another New Year knight. So too are Roger Neville, chief executive of Sun Alliance, Dr Richard Sykes, deputy chairman and chief executive of Glaxo Holdings, and Ian Wood, managing director of the offshore oil company John D Wood.

Sir David Nickson, the chairman of Clydesdale Bank and one of the great and good in Scottish industry, is one of only two life peers created in the honours list.

The vaunted common touch in this year's honours extends to industry. While Mr Vallance may grab the headlines, BT's customer services manager, Michael Owen, has been awarded an MBE.

Five employees of British Aerospace have been honoured for services to the defence industry, including John Owens, an aircraft fitter at British Aerospace Defence who also gets an MBE.

Among the other workers rewarded for services to industry are a section leader at Swan Hunter Shipbuilders, a face worker at Silverwood Colliery, an electrician at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and the purchasing accountant at Yarrow Shipbuilders.

For his services to the transport industry after a busy 1993, Peter Corbett, chief financial officer of Eurotunnel, has been awarded the CBE.

(Photographs omitted)