One John Madejski, there's only one ...

People & Business

John Willcock
Tuesday 29 April 1997 23:02

John Madejski, chairman and owner of Reading Football Club, is no shrinking violet. He was at the contract-signing ceremony yesterday for the construction of a new ground for the club, to be called the Madejski Stadium.

Fair enough, considering he guaranteed pounds 10m of the pounds 37m funding for the project. There is also a John Madejski Gallery at the Royal Academy of Art in London's Piccadilly. Again, this followed a pounds 500,000 donation.

The new 25,000-seater stadium is part of a 66-acre development that will include a conference centre and 2,000 parking spaces. The chairman is backing the scheme with his pounds 200m fortune, made largely in publishing.

Born in 1941 in humble beginnings, Mr Madejski worked his way around the world before starting work as an advertising executive with Reading Evening Post. His big break came when he decided to copy an idea for a magazine he had seen on holiday in Florida - selling used cars with a picture by the ad. Thus the massively successful Auto Trader was born.

Is Mr Madejski interested in rugby as well as football, I ask? After all, Chris Wright of Chrysalis has done well by buying Wasps, rugby's Courage League champions, as well as Queens Park Rangers. He replies: "I'll only be interested in rugby as a business when it can wash its face." Mind those grubby knees while you're about it.

To the annual results press conference for Co-operative Retail Services (CRS), the second-biggest co-op grouping behind the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS). While the CWS is celebrating its victory over the failed bidder Andrew Regan, the CRS was a more sombre occasion, with the first annual loss announced for a number of years.

Much in evidence was the new corporate identity, which cost well over pounds 6m. At the end of the press conference Peter Rowbotham, chairman, stood up and fell into the hoardings, causing a large copy of the new logo to crash noisily to the ground.

Harry Moore, chief executive, carried on the meeting as if nothing had happened. One wag asserted this had been his approach to the Regan bid, which would have had earth-shaking reverberations for the smaller CRS.

Interflora, the grouping of florists which covers the UK, is having similar problems to CWS. The Board of Interflora want to ditch its mutual status and turn it into a plc, while a minority of 400 rebel florists are set against it.

The rebels have fixed an egm for 11 May, at which they will try to depose the entire board and overturn the plc proposal. The revolting florists held a meeting in the City last night in which six rebel candidates were touted for the board.

Bravely, Interflora's chief executive, Douglas McGrath, and chairman, David Parry, went along to try to persuade the rebels that the scheme was a good one. I have yet to hear the result, but I'm sure the gladioli were flying.

The finance directors of the UK have just risen in my estimation. At least half of them would rather spend an evening in the pub with John Major and Ken Clarke than with Messrs Blair and Brown, according to a survey out today. The Labour duo polled 20 per cent in the survey by Accountancy Age, the bean-counters' weekly, and Hays Accountancy Personnel.

The FDs again showed their good taste when two of the Tory MPs tipped to replace Mr Major as Tory leader topped a league table of people they would least like to get stuck on a desert island with. Nearly one in three said Michael Portillo would be their least-favoured companion compared to John Redwood on 20 per cent, Bernie Grant on 18 per cent and Ken Livingstone on 15 per cent.

Talking of Accountancy Age, Andrew Pring has departed as editor of the mag after "irreconcilable differences" with management. Mr Pring was hired in 1995 by the Age's publishers, VNU, with the brief to bring the mag more into line with the big accountancy firms' views. The Age had become notorious for antagonising the big six firms, not least with endless reports about the BCCI scandal.

How ironic then, that VNU should call in Peter Williams to cover as acting editor. The forthright Mr Williams was editor during the controversial BCCI years. I doubt it will help the big six's digestion knowing "Ripper" Williams is back in town.

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