The chairman has trouble keeping up with the latest internet trends
The chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet likes to think he has his finger on the pulse of the modern investment world but when it comes to the internet, he does miss the occasional beat. For one thing, he's convinced E*Trade is a company that sells drugs ' which, for the avoidance of doubt, I am almost certain isn't the case. And for another, he has never wholly got to grips with the idea of SmallBlue operating its own website.
A quick look at the dog-eared photocopies that pass for my archive on the chairman's time at SmallBlue and elsewhere shows he has not revisited the site since June 1997 ' something he of course has in common with about half the investment websites in existence.
Back in those glorious days when journalists used to marvel about fund managers never having experienced a bear market, statistics had plus signs and investment houses actually advertised, the merits of running a corporate website were just beginning to show.
At the time, the chairman told me his company was launching a site because of the first rule of marketing. This is not, as I then suggested, because 'everyone else is doing it' but because the company owes a duty to its investors always to be at the cutting edge of technology.
The chairman may have changed companies but his lines remain the same ' as, of course, does the website ' which is why, some six years on, we found ourselves once more perched gingerly on the cutting edge of technology. Or, more accurately, drinking pints of St David's in the back of The Wilde Rover.
'I'm no expert,' I said. 'But I think the point of a website is that it's interactive and up-to-date. It's all very well having performance figures and new product details ' not to mention the splendid SmallBlue Planet logo ' but, with your site, it would frankly have been cheaper simply to mail your investors a photo to stick on their computer screens.'
'Well, since you're so clever, what would you suggest?' asked the chairman.
'As I said, I'm no expert,' I replied. 'Although there does seem to be a bit of a trend for investment houses to run computer games on their sites, particularly space invaders. For example, the game is probably the only reason for visiting BWD Rensburg's site and there's also been a version chez Jupiter. Not so sure about the game itself on that one but the 'Hall of Fame' makes for interesting reading.'
'Why's that then?' asked the chairman.
'It's just that a lot of the top 10 high-scorers would appear to have something in common,' I said. 'Top of the list is Sandra, followed by JD, William and then Len, who I believe is the odd man out. Then we have someone called Gorrrrrrrdon, then John Bond, Gibbsy, Bonny Boss, William again and finally Hopper.
'The theory goes that Bonny Boss refers to Jupiter head Edward Bonham Carter with Gorrrrrrrdon being MD Gordon Davidson. Gibbsy would be Philip Gibbs with John Bond fellow manager John Hamilton and Hopper, I believe, a reference to Adrian Paterson ' don't ask me why. I suppose JD could be a reference to John Duffield although he doesn't strike me as the computer-gaming type, which leaves Sandra and William.
'I have it on reasonably credible authority that Sandra is the name of the wife of a certain former Jupiter manager, who is actually responsible for some 52 of the top 57 scores on the site ' including 'Mugger' as a reference to Alan Miller and a curious number of 'Malones'. Apparently, running income funds wasn't all William Littlewood was good at ' although I'd like to think he makes it out of the house at least once in a while. I'm led to believe he's netted Jupiter's £3,000 top prize for his wife but I guess he's well used to bonus payments from the company.'
'Extraordinary,' said the chairman. 'Although, had it been SmallBlue, I think we'd have hired some 1980s throwback' or perhaps a six-year-old child ' to overtake any former employee's scores. But why do you think so many groups are suddenly running space invader games anyway?'
'I'm almost too scared to analyse that one,' I replied. 'My best guess is it's something to do with expected industry consolidation and an acceptance that one of the only ways to survive will be to take over other people's patches. Then again, maybe they just like computer games.'
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