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The industry plotting going on in the gardens of Britain

Confirmation last week from Preferred that its joint managing directors, John Webster and George Patellis, have quit the company throws up a few questions.

If, as widely rumoured, Webster is in line for the top job at lender Swift Advances, contractual obligations at Lehman Brothers are likely to be just as harsh as for the nine who recently walked out of HBOS, and Webster is likely to have at least nine months twiddling his thumbs before he’ll be able to get down to business.

The biggest question is, what will all these people be doing? As one source says: “There will certainly be a lot of well tended gardens out there.”

There is no official word from Swift on who will be taking the top job at the firm and it seems bewildered by all the media attention the vacancy has attracted.

Patellis on the other hand is due to leave at the end of 2005 to return to the US with his family. At the same time, at Lehman’s bedfellow Southern Pacific Mortgage Limited, managing director Bill Cherry has left to return to the US, leading some to speculate that Lehman could seize this moment to finally fuse the two brands.

With senior heads of staff tumbling out of the frame and the back offices already merged it would be the perfect opportunity for a brand rethink, though Lehman stresses that there are no merger plans yet.

But the market is changing at a ferocious pace and the emergence of new lenders will give a lot of the established players in the crowded sub-prime market pause for thought.

Unity Homeloans – set up by four members of the Professional Mortgage Packagers Alliance and backed by investment bank Investec – starts trading this week, joining fellow packager Beacon Homeloans, headed by the enigmatic Mark Abbott.

Meanwhile, industry giant HBOS has suffered a major brain drain in recent months with the loss of Michael Bolton, Alan Cleary, John Nixon, Rob Williams, Mark Smith, Bill Dudgeon, Mark Bergin, David Parry and Paul Graham. The result will be stiff competition in the specialist lending sector.

Bolton and Cleary look poised to try and recapture some of the magic that made BM Solutions sparkle.

But similarly, the potential of Dudgeon at Deutsche Bank to shake up the market is huge.

The industry rumour mill is in overdrive over Deutsche and its recruitment of Dudgeon and his team from The Mortgage Business, as apparently this won’t just be a way for the firm to get into the UK. Despite having a massive retail presence in Germany it has no sub-prime mortgage product there and industry sources say if things go well, it could form a hub to break into Germany.

So with all the gardening leave in the industry, will profits rocket at garden centres as bosses sack the help and focus on their own turf and begonias? It’s fair to say gardeners’ jobs are safe for the time being.

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