18 March 2009 Business Breakfast bottom line tops expectations British ORT held a recession-busting Business Breakfast this week, attracting more people than ever from the financial front line to hear the highly topical keynote speaker, Lloyds Banking Group Chairman Sir Victor Blank, give his views on the Lloyds-HBOS merger. What was the first major event held under the new lay and professional leadership at British ORT proved to be a great success despite the obvious pressures on customary supporters. Nearly 300 people from JP Morgan, Blick Rothenberg, Investec, Eden Financial, Heron International and other big names attended the function at the Park Lane Hotel in central London raising more than 31,000, which will form part of British ORTs commitment to Shaar HaNegev High School. The school, which participates in World ORTs Kadima Mada programme, lies just two kilometres from the Gaza border and has been seriously affected by rocket attacks. British ORT aims to provide the school with a rocket-proof science and technology centre among other things. I am absolutely delighted; we had a fantastic turnout, said British ORT Chairman Simon Alberga (pictured, left, with Sir Victor Blank, Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor and Travelex Chairman Lloyd Dorfman). It was a combination of having a very good, topical speaker in Sir Victor and our having expanded our base of British ORT trustees who set to work to get people to come. The effect of the recession was felt in the fewer tables bought up by corporations but this was more than compensated for by the higher number of people who attended as individuals or as small groups from firms. British ORTs new Director of Fundraising, Dr Noga Zivan, said the event sponsored by the Aurum investment management group and leading provider of concierge services, Wizz2u had gone fantastically well. It was the first big event we have run for British ORT as a team so we were very pleased that it went so well and bucked the economic trend. There was a really positive buzz to the event, Dr Zivan said. Customarily, the Business Breakfast raises most of its money through ticket sales but this year, unusually, British ORT received some significant donations from individuals. In addition, nearly 4,000 was raised by the raffling of a rare photograph, signed by football legend Pele of his meeting with Mohammed Ali. The picture was donated by Stuart Macdonald, Director of Gems Advisors. While the attendance and money raised belied the dire economic climate, it was the banking crisis which was at the forefront of peoples minds thanks to keynote speaker Sir Victor Blank. Sir Victor has come under fire in the media for what is seen by some as last years hasty merger of the traditionally conservative high street retail bank Lloyds TSB with Britains biggest mortgage lender HBOS, which last month reported losses of nearly 11 billion. Earlier this month, the British Government took a majority stake in Lloyds and underwrote 260 billion of Lloyds toxic assets. The situation has whipped up strong criticism of Lloyds management among shareholders and media commentators. But Sir Victor, who rose from humble immigrant origins to become one of Britains most revered businessmen, defended the merger and touted its long term prospects. We are, and remain, convinced that the transaction is overwhelmingly in shareholders medium term interests, he said. It creates the largest retail financial services provider in the UK one of the biggest and, in recent times, the most profitable retail financial services markets. We have great brand names and distribution networks such as Lloyds TSB, Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Scottish Widows, Clerical Medical and others With our rigorous risk procedures and proven track record in managing risk, we have the skills, experience and determination to return the combined organisation to profitable growth. Sir Victor said a merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS had been investigated and discussed for several years before it actually took place and blamed the unexpected severity of the economic downturn for the problems that were being encountered. What changed was the economic prospects and the speed of downturn, he said. When we made our bid for HBOS, the general consensus of economists expectations was that the downturn for the rest of the year would be at the order of -0.2 per cent in GDP. It turned out that in the last quarter of the downturn was of the order -1.5 per cent in GDP. In relation to a relatively highly geared and more high risk portfolio in HBOS, then that of course did have an effect. Travelex Chairman Lloyd Dorfman, who hosted the Business Breakfast, welcome the wife and son of Michael Naughton who, for many years, was the driving force behind the Business Breakfast. Unfortunately, Michael is not well enough to attend today but Mimi and Daniel, please pass on our very best wishes to him and assure him were keeping the ORT Business Breakfast flag flying. World ORT Director General Robert Singer congratulated British ORT on the continued success of the Business Breakfast. This event has become a calendar event in Britains business community thanks to the consistently high quality of speakers and the host, Mr Singer said.