4 JUNE 1971, Page 27

Life, not loves

For anyone who has recently been in the offices of any one of our young go-go bosses, Frank Harris's account of Ernest Terah Hooley's method of business circa 1898 will not be unfamiliar:

' . . . / was introduced to Hooley at the Midland Grand Hotel. To my surprise, I learned that the financier had taken the whole

of the first floor of the Midland Grand Hotel for his offices. I don't know how many rooms there were, but I believe there were certainly fifty; and front ten o'clock in the morning until six at night, almost every room was filled with people who had axes to grind. Hooky flitted from room to room, always good-humoured and decisively quick in deal- ing with the most heterogeneous projects.

'At one moment he was discussing the raising of a loan of sixteen millions with Li Hung Chang on the security of the Chinese customs, and with him was Sir Robert Hart, the Englishman who knew more about China than any other living westerner. In Hooley's private room, one would meet Arthur du Cros who had more to do with the successful Dunlop promotion than any other member of his family, and who afterwards became a member of Parliament and was knighted, 1 believe, for this achievement: an alert, intelli- gent man, a good organiser, but intensely combative. In another room a nobleman who had come to sell Hooley the Prince's yacht "Br•itannria"; in still another room, a per- suasive Spaniard, who appeared with the news that sugar had been made from sea water, and all he wanted was a million for the discovery. From room to room went Hooley, a rather tall, well-made man with black hair, black beard, black moustache, a long beaked Jewish nose, and long half-closed Jewish eyes, well dressed and always polite without a particle of "side", too earnestly busy to show any conceit.'

Today the men running these companies are, on the whole, better-looking than poor Hooley and are an engaging lot—products of minor public schools and, like Mr Heath's cabinet, the alumni of stockbrokers' offices and chartered accountancy apprenticeships. Some of them are, as the police say, 'known to me' and will readily admit, in private of course, to the weakness of the arithmetic behind the twist which has been rediscovered every forty years or so since the South Sea Bubble started bemusing those with money. The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission summed up the people they catch: 'In my considered judgment the average prudent investor is a greedy son of a bitch'.