Dark clouds gather over a corporate logo

Is Citigroup planning to fold Sandy Weill’s umbrella?

For years, the cheerful red umbrella was the corporate logo for Travelers Group, the insurance company that Weill ran before merging it with Citicorp in 1998. Weill ascended to the top of Citi, and the umbrella came to represent his grand strategy of pulling insurance, investment banking and commercial banking together in one happy company.

Not long after the merger, the umbrella also came dangerously close to symbolising corporate gigantism, at least in New York. The four-storey red neon umbrella that stood on the north face of the Travelers building projected so much light that residents of the Tribeca neighbourhood launched a campaign to remove it. According to a 1998 editorial in The New York Times called “Fold the Umbrella”, one of Weill’s lieutenants advised him to ignore the complaints, saying the trendy Tribeca residents were “maladjusted Midwesterners”.

Ultimately, the sign’s wattage was lowered and the umbrella faded from the headlines. But apparently Chuck Prince, Citi’s chairman and chief executive, has ordered a review of the group’s branding. Word is that he would like to put his own stamp on Citi; it makes sense that this would involve removing Sandy’s signature.

Observer can only wonder what other Weill initiatives might be under review now that Prince is fully out from under Sandy’s umbrella.

Global game

In Brussels it seems nobody is talking about anything but the World Cup these days. On Monday it was the turn of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president and part-time soccer player, to be football philosopher.

He’s backing Germany to get to the final. “I hope – this is sincere for it would increase the level of confidence in Europe – that Germany is one of the [finalists],” he told Observer’s pundit.

He would, of course, be happy to see his native Portugal there. “When I go to China, Africa or Latin America everybody asks me about Figo. They do not know about great Portuguese literature but they do know about great football players. It is a great element of globalisation,” he said. “It is a European invention, a European industry,” he added. Never off duty.

Bangkok’s star PM

Girija Prasad Koirala, the 85-year-old recently reinstalled as Nepal’s prime minister, was hailed as a conquering hero when he resumed office after King Gyanendra was forced – following weeks of anti-monarchy protests – to relinquish his absolute power.

The Nepali leader, who has thrice before served as prime minister, now has his work cut out as he oversees the transformation of what was once the world’s sole Hindu kingdom into a secular republic. He must also forge a political agreement with the country’s Maoist rebels.

However, Koirala has just arrived in Bangkok, where he is expected to spend a week undergoing medical tests at Bumrungrad Hospital for the chronic lung ailment that delayed his formal swearing-in.

It’s an ironic choice of venue, as not long ago Bangkok itself was the scene of massive street demonstrations by middle-class taxpayers fed up with their elected prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now a hobbled caretaker prime minister awaiting fresh elections in the months ahead.

In a move that defied the norms of diplomatic protocol, Thaksin, while ostensibly on a political “break”, recently spent several weeks travelling the globe and meeting various world leaders to bolster his popularity.

But there is no word yet as to whether the Thai premier plans to storm the hospital to try to bask in Koirala’s reflected glory.

Brand extension

Never let it be said that there are no second acts in the pornography business.

Savanna Samson, recently named best adult film actress for her role in The New Devil in Miss Jones, is using her unique celebrity to launch new business ventures, including a white wine called Sogno Due. Observer caught up with her at the trendy Rivington Hotel in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where she and other adult film stars were promoting an artsy documentary called Thinking XXX.

Samson, whose real name is Natalie Oliveros, is not only an adult film star and vintner, but is also working on a line of make-up, her own olive oil and a cologne for men later this year. (Her red wine, Sogno Uno, was released in February and received positive notices in some serious wine publications.)

Dressed in white short-shorts, high heels, a white sleeveless shirt and a white newsboy cap, she talked about having to tone down the label on her new wine to get it distributed. “My importer says the label was too risqué. So I doctored it up by removing the silhouette of nipples.”

Asked to describe her wine, she said: “It’s crisp and fresh. It’s made to be drunk on a yacht.”

Thanks but no

Football’s premier tournament is in full swing but Alexey Mordashov has not caught World Cup fever.

The rise of the quietly spoken Russian steel tycoon – currently fighting with Lakshmi Mittal for Luxembourg-based Arcelor – has sparked comparisons with compatriot Roman Abramovich, fellow magnate and owner of Chelsea Football Club.

Mordashov’s past as an MBA student at Newcastle University in northern England – and his decision on Monday to sport a tie with the same pattern as the jersey of the city’s famously underachieving football team – set tongues wagging. Is he preparing to give Roman a run for his money in the Premier League? This Russian tycoon thinks that would be an own-goal.

“I will never buy a football team,” he exclaimed. “I have got different hobbies!”


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