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I recently ran a piece in The Times City Diary about a venture capitalist who refused to do business with anyone who wore gold jewellery, kept a fish tank in their lobby or had a beard.

For some reason, the ‘beard’ bit struck a chord with readers. One chap wrote in to tell me about his grandfather’s golden rules – never trust anyone wearing brown shoes with a blue suit and never trust anybody with a beard. Another wrote: ‘I was always taught: never trust a fat man, and never ever trust a fat man with a beard.’ Naturally, I ran this in the column.

This prompted a letter from a reader in Hertfordshire who said he never buys shares in a company with a bearded chairman or chief executive. In his opinion, ‘they have something to hide’.

A reader from Preston accused me of victimising people with beards and said never trusting a fat man meant we’d never do any business in the UK because so many Britons are overweight.

This set me thinking. Are bearded men any less trustworthy than the rest of us? Robert Maxwell was clean-shaven, but that didn’t hold him back.

A litany of others – Alan Bond, Asil Nadir, Abbas Gokal – all went for the smooth look. Roger Levitt had a moustache, but that’s another story.

So who are we left with? Ron Sandler, the man in charge of the Government’s savings review, made a point of growing one after leaving Lloyd’s of London.

Peter de Savary has had a beard for as long as I can remember. So has Sir Richard Branson, and Ken Bates has a splendid silvery number.

Nothing wrong with them – but then it came to me: Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom, this is the man who has given beards a bad name. If we have a prejudice, it’s down to Bernie’s billion-dollar follicles. Don’t mention Osama bin Laden.

  • Jon Ashworth, business features Editor at The Times.

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