7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 29


It's people what count

Nephew Wilde

One day at Ascot many years ago Aunt Maud who had dropped a few pounds in the first race surreptitiously made her way behind the jockeys' weighing-in rooms, extracted a glass from her handbag, held it to a door and listened attentively. Then returning her bugging device to her bag, cautiously stole back to the betting ring and placed a sizeable sum on an outsider. Need I add that a rather dilapidated horse limped past the winning post a head in front of the favourite.

I never knew how much my Aunt won but in the home-bound taxi, wearing an artful expression she began to tutor me. " When it comes to gambling, and I put so-called investing in this category, it's the people who matter. Just take that jockey who won today, he had made one or two handsome offers to bring that donkey he was riding home. then continued with the story about my Uncle Arthur, who ran a fertiliser bulitness. "It wasn't that farmers wC;ie letting their land go fallow that nearly brought ruin to the company," she said, "no, it was Arthur up to his usual tricks, only this time his affair with the finance director's wife created such boardroom mistrust that nobody could concentrate on the running of the business."

This memorable and somewhat shattering conversation with my usually prudish aunt came back to me last week when, with keen interest I read all the newspaper stories about Ralli's merger with Bowater. Many commentaries drew a parallel with the P&O deal with Bovis, pointing out that the measures being taken really boiled down to the purchase of management. I really do not know how a big corporation can get itself into a position where there are no capable executives to continue the running of the business, though to me it seems that this situation could be created by power men elbowing their way to the top and leaving a crowd of ' yes ' men in their wake.

Anyway I am glad to see that the chairman of Ralli, Mr Malcolm Horsman, has been called in to strengthen the board of Bowater. If Mr Horsman had to give a lecture to British businessmen I can imagine he would speak in the same vein as that master of the chess board, Bobby Fischer: "Too many times, people don't try their best. They don't have the keen spirit; the winning spirit. And once you make it you've got to guard your reputation — every day go in like an unknown to prove yourself. That's why I don't clown around. I don't believe in wasting time."

For all that, my participation in the money game is not proving very successful. However, I am optimistic about this week's selection. This is Dunlop which is humbly rated in the market at the moment but I believe that this is the sort of share that institutions will be looking for after they get over the shock of the recent setback in the market.