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The corridors of power ...

During the depths of the summer recess, I was dispatched to that great metropolis Birmingham, or at least the fortified outpost of the Birmingham Metropole hotel. The place, a night-stop for many accountants, had been taken over by Avon, the cosmetics and trinkets group, for an annual area manager sales day. It reminded me of Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I was there to interview Avon’s chief executive Andrea Jung a high-powered American who is regularly named as among the top five US woman business leaders. She had spent the day ‘motivating’ some 500 adoring Avon reps. Quite a thought.

The interview was an odd one. We were joined by a serious looking man who sat in the corner with both buttons of his jacket tied up, which I thought was a bit of a sartorial faux pas. I assumed he was a PR man.

Chatting to him afterwards, it emerged that he was Avon’s global head of security – a bodyguard. He had spent the last 20 years working for the US intelligence service in embassies around the world, before taking the private sector shilling.

Avon subsequently informed me he was concerned that I had been asking about Jung’s travel plans, and insisted I cut all references out of my article. This struck me as a bit paranoid, but maybe that’s the US secret service for you. Did she swim? Did she arrive on a broomstick? My lips are sealed.

Senior executives have to take security seriously, but surely this is over-the-top. This was Birmingham, not Bogota. Perhaps it’s a reflection on the places where Avon does most of its business – Mexico, Brazil and eastern Europe. I hope that Mr Secret Service enjoyed the interview more than I did.

  • Jon Ashworth, business features editor at The Times.

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