January 2008 – a lifetime away. Back then, sensible businesspeople still talked of launching rescue packages for financial institutions. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money was mooted as the White Knight for the ailing Northern Rock; so, too, was former Abbey saviour Luqman Arnold. In the end, only the taxpayer had the stomach for the debts.
This was to be China’s year, when the 2008 Olympics finally came to Beijing and the world awoke to the immense new power and influence of the Far East. As the London Evening Standard wrote of China’s “new-fangled colonialism” in Africa, in which China invests huge sums in resource-rich African countries: “Beijing has transformed itself from an aid donor vying for political influence to an entrepreneur seeking economic advantage.”
As if to mark China’s arrival, the entrepreneur and Shanghai Tang founder David Tang was knighted in the New Year’s Honours List. For this very far from A-list correspondent, unaccustomed to hobnobbing with Kate Moss, Michael Heseltine, Sir Philip Green, Sharon Osbourne and Sarah Ferguson, Sir David’s investiture party was one of the highlights of the year.
It wasn’t just China grabbing the attention. In 2008, India has increasingly identified as one of the world’s most exciting economies. Dragon Peter Jones headed off there in search of new business talent. And top entrepreneur and champion of the north-east Chey Garland announced that she would be creating 3,000 new jobs at her call centres – erm, many of them in India.
Interesting to recall The Times’ “Power 100” ranking of the most influential businesspeople in Britain, which was published on January 10. Try to read these names without spluttering into your Mulled Wine:
Sir Win Bischoff (ranked first). Former Schroders boss, who took over as Citigroup non-exec chairman in December 2007. Bad luck. The next 12 months saw $70bn writedowns and 75,000 job losses. Just a few weeks ago, the board had to quell rumours that Bischoff was about to get the push-off.
Damon Buffini (third). The Permira boss has hardly done a deal all year.
Sir John Bond (fourth). The former HSBC chairman’s reputation was shredded by his steering of the bank’s one false move (the purchase of Household bank under his stewardship).
Sir Fred Goodwin (tenth). Enough said.
More tomorrow, when we’ll find out why the House of Lords debated the spirit of the Industrial Revolution entrepreneur.