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Correspondent&#39s week

It always seems funny to me how often deadlines are a struggle to meet, no matter how far in advance they are set. An example of this was the recent announcement by Mortgage 2000 and Mortgage Brain of our partnership to form the common mortgage trading platform, known as the Mortgage Trading Exchange.

After initial discussions had concluded that an agreement was the way forward, a deadline was set for Monday, September 16. Plenty of time to get everything signed, sealed and delivered – at least, that&#39s what we thought.

We refers to Mark Lofthouse, chief executive of Mortgage Brain, and myself. Working together with my main competitor on a deal of this significance was to be an experience in diplomacy of the highest level and this was definitely an education for me. Not known particularly for holding back my views, I must say that over the past few months my tongue has had a serious fall out with my teeth.

That is not to say we did not get on – we did – but then again I get on OK with my mother-in-law.

At the start of the week leading up to the announcement, it was a case of “This ain&#39t gonna happen”, “Not in a month of Sundays” and other such less printable phrases. Was the problem us? Was the deal too difficult? Was there a change of heart? Not at all, the problem was simple – lawyers.

You have all heard plenty of jokes about lawyers but the thing is they are true. Mark and I vowed that we would not let them get in a room together and we kept our word.

Thinking about it now, in hindsight, maybe we should have as they might then have left us alone. Telephone calls at midnight, after you have had a couple of bottles of wine, are not particularly desirable and the last thing you want to do is work through clauses in a legal document when one eye is looking at the other.

The most worrying thing for me, though, was when our lawyer proudly told me he was available 24/7 and charged the same rate irrespective of the hour.

With the enormity of the legal bill in mind and the deadline looming fast, it was time for an urgent course of action. Why didn&#39t we amend the contract ourselves?

Easy really. Off I went, pen in hand, Lord Lofthouse with his quill, and we set about the task. A couple of calls, a few choice remarks and, lo and behold, sorted. Now why didn&#39t we do this three months ago?

Bearing in mind that during the contract debacle there were loads of other things going on in the background, just when I was ready to relax everything else started to come together. Only a day or two before we announced, a press release needed to be agreed and briefings needed to be organised.

Then there were those dreaded conference calls. “You answer that”, “No, you go first”, “I don&#39t think I should comment”, “Oh go on, you&#39re better at this than me.” Meanwhile, pleasant sounds of the journalist snoozing could be heard in the background.

Then there was the final straw. I was on a train from London finally going home and the PR company patched us all in. The first question was: “Sean, how did this deal come about?”

“Well it started…” Damn no signal. I was now going through a tunnel.

Frantic efforts to get patched in again. Do you have any idea how many tunnels there are on the Midland Mainline? After about 10 minutes, I was back and coolly announced myself, only to hear the words: “Well, that&#39s about all I need. Thanks for your comments, guys.”

But my abiding memory was the difficulty Mr Lofthouse had with receiving emails. It was a joy to behold.

“Can you take the logos off, please, it&#39s taking ages to download.” And, of course, that memorable comment: “I&#39m awfully sorry, I&#39m not very good with technology,” said the chief executive of Mortgage Brain.


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