Slackberry: Hornby considers guru to aid rehab

The City Snitch: The good, the bad and the ugly of The Square Mile

Sunday 24 January 2010 01:00 GMT

As Boots suffers seemingly constant criticism for selling homeopathic remedies that don't work, here's some news on the corporate rehabilitation of the healthcare retailer's boss, and former HBOS chief executive, Andy Hornby.

Hornby is repairing his reputation following the hospital pass he received from his HBOS predecessor, Sir James Crosby, and is considering hiring executive coach Steve Tappin to help with this recuperation. "I haven't used Steve, but I might do in the future," Hornby admits, when I call for a chat.

Like the remedies, some unkind souls reckon these business gurus are the corporate equivalent of a placebo, but we should ignore such cynicism. I'm sure that Hornby – who is brilliant enough to have topped his class at Harvard – will end up gleaning plenty from a former headhunter.

Bolland's Astons indicate M&S plan B

Back in January 2007, Marks & Spencer launched its "Plan A", a selfless project designed to save the world by "combating climate change, reducing waste, using sustainable raw materials and trading ethically".

Chairman Sir Stuart Rose embraced this noble mood by bragging that he'd ordered a hydrogen-powered BMW (it was actually on a two-week loan) and bizarrely informing customers that he washed his underpants at the environmentally friendly temperature of 30C (They came out smelling of Rose's).

So will the incoming chief executive, Marc Bolland, be doing his bit by flogging his drive-full of Aston Martins and replacing them with a Toyota Prius?

"It's far too early for him to be thinking about this," sniffs a spokesman. Time for Plan B?

Buffett truth sours the Cadbury deal

Sceptical observers of the Kraft takeover of Cadbury assumed that when Warren Buffett made his intervention earlier this month, it was all part of a carefully choreographed strategy agreed with Kraft boss Irene Rosenfeld. After all, Buffett is a top Kraft shareholder, and his comments were seen to assist the bid as Cadbury's shares slumped.

Since Kraft's approach has been recommended to Cadbury shareholders, Buffett has demonstrated that he wasn't bluffing after all by repeating his criticisms of the deal. What is the world of mergers and acquisitions coming to when it's a big shock that somebody actually tells the truth?

What's up with Blair's bonus?

As bankers' bonuses continue to be greeted with cries from Westminster about the disgraceful reward of failure, I wonder if two of the political architects of the financial crisis are ready to take one for the team?

From their Downing Street base, former prime minister Tony Blair and his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, were at the forefront of creating the new financial regulatory regime that brought us triumphs such as the run on Northern Rock. But now Blair's at JP Morgan, and Powell's earning a crust at Morgan Stanley, have they themselves taken a bonus during this year's bumper round? "No comment," is the synchronised reply. Funny, that.

Dropped games avert bookies' gloom

Impoverished bookmakers pleaded poverty in October after suffering heavy losses during the early part of the football season.

Sages observed at the time that the "struggling bookie" line is one of the oldest (and most habitually used) tricks in the turf accountancy textbook – as punters are encouraged to bet more if they believe somebody else is the mug.

Following the autumn blip, William Hill said last week that full-year profits will be at the top end of City forecasts, after stumbles by Chelsea and Manchester United. Who'd have thought it?

All the President's men and their fetching hostesses

Recession? What recession?

The ultra-secretive Presidents Club – the annual charity dinner attended by London's wealthiest businessmen – had its latest majestic gathering in the ballroom of the Dorchester hotel last Wednesday evening.

The lavish bash was organised by coat-hanger tycoon Peter Shalson – who once booked Elton John to play at his wedding celebrations – and his guests included oligarch Len Blavatnik; Goldman Sachs boss "Fat Mike" Sherwood; newly wed Carphone Warehouse chief Charles Dunstone; plus Sir Martin Sorrell and Richard Desmond from the media world.

Also in attendance were Formula 1's Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore; property tycoons Nick Candy, David Reuben and Gerald Ronson; fund manager Howard Shore; impresarios Harvey Goldsmith and Jarvis Astaire; restaurateur Jimmy Lahoud; entrepreneur Dan Wagner; oh, and funny man Jimmy Tarbuck.

All very grand, but the most eye catching part of the event – which is strictly for male diners – was the bevy of hostesses dressed in short black or red dresses, who entered the ballroom after dinner, to the fanfare of Shania Twain's "Feel Like a Woman". Each are paid £120 for "fetching drinks" and "socialising with" the glitzy guests.

It is quite a racy event for the conservative HSBC to sponsor, but the beauty parade seemed to be something of a hit.

"The boys tucked into the girls," confesses my man on the inside, before adding swiftly: "after I'd left." Naturally.

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