As Hanson steps down, Lord St John steps in

One of the best-known names in independent corporate broking and finance, Robert Hanson, is stepping down as chairman of the firm partly created out of his original Hanson Capital six years ago — Strand Hanson.

Hanson, as those of you with long memories will know, is, of course, son of the late Lord Hanson whose takeover battles kept many a financial journalist in gainful employment throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

His Hanson Trust was the original highly leveraged conglomerate that counted everything from Ever Ready batteries to Imperial Tobacco cigarettes in its trophy cabinets.

While not quite as swashbuckling in the corporate world as his father, Robert has made plenty of appearances in the gossip columns, and eventually married Masha Markova, a Russian model 25 years his junior.

He also has a contacts book of wealthy individuals that is the envy of many a dealmaker.

But now he is stepping down as chairman to concentrate on Hanson Asset Management — the old family office that is expanding — although he will remain an adviser to Strand Hanson.

Coming in as chairman is Lord St John of Bletso — known as Anthony to his friends and colleagues.

His appointment is a clear signal that Strand Hanson, under its tough-talking chief executive, Simon Raggett, is shifting its focus away from bringing oil and gas stocks to AIM to doing deals in, and bringing companies to, the London market from Africa.

St John of Bletso, one of the surviving hereditary peers in the House of Lords, worked at investment banks County NatWest, Smith New Court and Merrill Lynch but has always firmly had one foot in Africa.

He and Raggett believe London is set to become the centre for a boom in African deals.

This is not just about raising money from UK investors for African businesses but rather more to do with funnelling Chinese, Middle Eastern and American cash into the continent.

In addition, they are looking at cross-border deals throughout Africa that are being put together here in London.

And it is far from just former colonies which excite them. Indeed, St John of Bletso happily gave me his top three African countries in which to invest, and they made my eyebrows rise a couple of inches.

They are Nigeria (medium term), Egypt and Ethiopia.

These are not investment situations for widows and orphans, naturally. But the lure of Africa, and the deals that can be done there, look an interesting bet for those who are prepared to risk a bit of adventure.