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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

FRIDAY 3rd SEPTEMBER 1999 - Definitely Legal and Generally a good idea …?

I turn the shower off and gingerly climb out of the bath. Strangely, the sound of sloshing, dripping water continues - well, not strange really, as it has rained absolutely continuously for six days since we arrived in Austria last weekend. The plane landed at Salzburg (after a holding circuit to "wait for the storm to abate") in the heaviest rain I have seen for years, and while it did ease off, Schladming has had six days of light drizzle, heavy drizzle, rain, downpour, and most other variations on that damp theme. Jane, my wife, and our nine-year-old daughter are still lounging in bed on the principle that there isn't much to get up for in this weather.

Anyway, as I towel myself dry, CNN moves into the business news.

"And after the break, NatWest, a leading British bank, announce a major Insurance take-over".

Sorry? Could you repeat that? Did you hear that Jane? NatWest! I work for NatWest! But I don’t know anything about this - I've only been out of the office a week. I'm supposed to be fairly important! Nobody told me we were going to launch a bid!

But first I have to sit through the usual adverts. ("These fine hotels carry CNN" - so what? Are there really sad individuals who chose their destinations based on the availability of a news TV channel?) The brief detail finally comes. NatWest is acquiring Legal and General, one of the largest UK insurance companies, in an agreed take-over worth about £11 billion.

It will be NatWest's largest ever acquisition, and one of the largest ever mergers in the UK, or indeed in the financial services sector globally. It looks like the first major strategic move from Sir David Rowland, our new Chairman. He has been in that position since April, having joined the Board last year and has already struck us as someone who will not hang around in terms of making things happen. At first sight, this looks like very positive news, and I almost regret not being in the office today; it must be an exciting time for everybody.

We decide that it looks a little better outside. The rain in the town has eased a little, so we venture to the top of the cable car, where there are apparently beautiful strolls around alpine meadows, with little flowers, birds, and small cuddly animals gamboling in verdant pastures. When we get out of the cable car and emerge from the shelter of its terminal, the wind is about force 7 and is blowing the sleet horizontally down the mountain and into our faces. Visibility is about 30 meters and falling. It is only a degree or two away from a genuine blizzard. The restaurant is about 50 metres above the cable car station, and it takes us about 10 minutes to stagger up the slope to a well-deserved hot chocolate. Not quite the vision of the Alps in the summer I had in mind.

Jane and I married 16 years ago today, which makes this celebration our polypropylene (or something similarly obscure) anniversary. We have a celebratory lunch (after drying out from the trip up the mountain) and a few drinks in the evening, but my mind is already back at work. What will this mean in terms of top management changes; will it affect my role as Purchasing Director, and so on. I don't know, you go away for a few days and your comfortable world tips on its axis - OK, I know that's an exaggeration, but believe me, in the context of being Purchasing Director of NatWest, this is about as exciting as anything that has happened since I joined in '97.

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