Clara comes in to cure the Exchange's delusions but she must be its last chance
Fourth time lucky? Clara Furse must surely represent the London Stock Exchange's last chance. She has emerged as its choice of chief executive, the job in which her three predecessors took the blame for decisions made by others and for the failures of nerve and direction which have plagued the Exchange ever since it was a gentlemen's club. Less than a year ago the present board, led by the present chairman, Don Cruickshank, wanted it to come over with its hands up and surrender to the Germans. When that dismal proposal collapsed in September, the chief executive went, and the situation has been vacant ever since. So Clara Furse must be brave as well as tough. She comes from the futures markets, which are themselves one of the Exchange's great missed opportunities. The old guard had preferred to look down on these newcomers as potato traders in pyjama jackets. The firm she runs is a market leader, and as deputy chairman she tried to save Liffe, the financial futures exchange, from the delusions of institutional grandeur which were so nearly fatal to it. She could see off Werner Siefert of the Deutsche Borse in his own language, and his opposite numbers from Paris, Milan and Madrid, too. Better still, with her appointment, London's leading exchanges and clearing houses might at long last learn to speak the same language and to get their acts together. That, and not some flashy merger or alliance across borders, is what will count in asserting and sustaining their competitive position in the world. Most or many of the City's success stories, her own firm included, are owned and controlled from elsewhere, and it would be something to reverse that trend. She will need to cure the Exchange of its own delusions and to run it like a business. I just hope she gets the chance.
Things to do
AGENDA for Clara: (a) Encourage your chairman to go away and investigate something. He likes that. (b) Try to persuade the board that it is not a club committee, with you on the far side of the green baize door. (c) Hurry to America, where they have a central counterparty, find out what it is and get one here. This is apparently why their transaction costs are so much lower than ours are. (d) Then incite Gordon Brown to reward your initiative by cutting stamp duty. (e) Move out of that ridiculous tower, demolish it, and realise the value of the site before a bidder comes along and does it for you. (f) Tell your listing department to stop trying to enforce codes of governance on companies, at least until the Exchange learns to govern itself. What is a listing department, anyhow? One that is about to roll over and sink. (g) Never forget that your customers have a choice. (h) Keep smiling.
The great cause
THE dusty summer calm of 99 Gower Street, home (this was many years ago) of The Spectator, was disturbed by an editorial memorandum:
Mr Auberon Waugh and Mr Christopher Fildes have today joined the staff of The Spectator.
As from today, The Spectator ceases to be insured against libel.
Gatley's Libel and Slander (6th and 7th edition) may be consulted in my office.
N. Lawson, Editor I have always thought this was a false economy. As time went on, the two of us could claim to be The Spectator's joint oldest inhabitants. I do not recall that we got The Spectator sued for libel — Bron had studied the law and knew that abuse was not actionable — but there is always a first time. His death is a loss to the cause upheld by Denry Machin, Arnold Bennett's 'Card': the great cause of cheering us all up'. Stirring up, of course, too.
DRESSING down and sobering up are supposed to be the style-marks of the modern City, but luckily no one has told Trixie Trader, No chinos, no Badoit for her. The best champagne will be good enough, or failing that the most expensive, or failing that, the largest bottle, and she is never
seen out of her designer-label clothes. Well, hardly ever. Helen Dunne conjured her up for the City pages of the Daily Telegraph, as a way of telling stories in which only the names had been changed, to protect the litigious or innocent. Now she has graduated to a novel (not to say a romance) of her own: Trixie Trader (Orion, £5.99). I seem to recognise some of the incidents. That scene on the boardroom sofa with the security cameras still rolling — didn't that happen at Thingumbobs Bank, and wasn't a sweepstake won on it? Trixie would know.
A NEW line in excuses from Luke Vandevelde at Marks & Spencer. He blames his shops' unhappy Christmas on unhappiness at the head office in Baker Street, where almost half of the 4,000 inhabitants have had to reapply for their jobs. Hang on a moment: how many? Who else has a 4,000-seater head office? The Ministry of Defence? Even Imperial Chemical Industries, at its sprawling empire's height, never squeezed more than 2,000 people into Millbank, or, as it was known, Millstone House. Now the day of the colossal head office is over — even Shell has learnt that it did not need two of them — and ICI itself is moving to a bijou residence in Manchester Square. I have urged Mr Vandevelde to move to a small office-block somewhere near the North Circular Road and see who decides to come with him. Those who did might find that they enjoyed it, and the mood would spread.
More research needed
APOLOGIES for absence. I have been in Costa Rica, carrying out research into its currency, the colon. Among the world's 184-odd official currencies, this was distinguished, so I thought, by its aptitude for notation and for subdivision. Thus, one : = two ;, and so on. Alas, inflation has taken its toll, and the low est coin now in circulation is the Every so often the International Monetary Fund has to give the economy colonic irrigation. More research is plainly needed, and more international funding. I fear that this will distract me next week, but I should then hope to return with a clear run through to the Budget, which is already beginning to look like a pain in the Costa Rican currency.