So who had the best box?

It was a tough decision figuring out who had the best box at this year''s Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens.

For those who read this month's story in FinanceAsia magazine about Asian broking (pg 44), they will know that I did not go to the Hong Kong Sevens this year with high hopes.

I was convinced that recent departures and cutbacks at second tier European firms would eliminate some of the best fun corporate boxes. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Indeed, I was very wrong in the case of WI Carr. I had logically assumed that having closed its Asian business, it would not have a box this year. My apologies, as WI Carr did have a box, and the Pussy Club (as it was themed) was typically outrageous. If you saw ladies wearing cats' collars with little bells, let it be known they got them from WI Carr.

At other boxes the WI Carr box became known as the "virtual box" because almost no one had ever come across the concept of having a box when you did not have a business. Apparently, its parent Credit Agricole Indosuez had signed up for the box for three years and thus had to use it, and chose to co-brand the box with its internet vehicle, Blink.

Box organizer, Lucy Spencer hosted a very good box, and with the help of House of Siren can rest in the knowledge that WI Carr has gone down with a fitting bang.

This was the first year that I have experienced rain at the Sevens. Sunshine has characterized the event since 1998 (when CSFB began its sponsorship), but showers marked this year's event. Helping to keep people dry, were 400 purple FinanceAsia umbrellas, which we gave out on Saturday morning.

But enough of umbrellas, I hear you cry, who had the best box?

Well, the pre-event favourites were CLSA, who were up to their usual party-animal antics. This year's theme was doctors and nurses. Guests were given yellow doctors coats and the nurses were usefully administering beer for pretty much any ailment.

Shenanigans normally break out each year between CLSA and ABN AMRO, but a much quieter ABN meant that the West Stand War this year was between Ed Peter's Deutsche Bank and the yellow and blue machine.

Peter, who has hired more than a few staff this year, was out to outgun CLSA with a Muhammed Ali theme, blue dressing gowns, inflatable boxing gloves, bad hairdos, and girls in blue wigs and bikinis.

Ed Peter was also hoping to toss six large inflatable blue cows into the ever-playful South Stand. However, CLSA got wind of this upstaging tactic and on Friday evening, a crack force of the firm's diehards managed to pilfer them.

A rather aggrieved Peter was still lamenting the cow-theft on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, a CLSA source confirmed the antics and said the spirited pilferers would be punished with improved remuneration in the coming year.

The big surprise of the Sevens - apart from England's victory - was Goldman Sachs's box. There are some who deride Goldman for being incredibly boring and lacking a sense of humour. Their box last year would have supported that view.

This year it seems that Tim Freshwater took matters in hand and themed the box around the King of rock'n'roll, Elvis. Accordingly, a very good Elvis impersonator would climb on the bar every hour and do a couple of numbers.

Goldman gave guests bouffant Elvis wigs with sideburns as well as Elvis sunglasses. I spent the largest part of my time at the Sevens this year wearing these, so Goldman, while not winning the overall best box award, does get a special mention for "Best attire".

Elewhere on the West Stand, Salomon themed its box around the American South, while CSFB's box was reasonably low key - although guests did have a chance to meet former British prime minister, John Major.

Over on the East Stand, the box wars reached their apogee. Readers may recall that last year I said Merrill's box must have been themed around a cemetery because it was totally dead. Not so this year, with Merrill making a decent showing, with a lusty Caribbean theme. Indeed, while no one was in the box last year, in a strange reversal, I actually saw someone thrown out of the Merrill box this year. Judging by the speed with which he hit the wall and bounced off it, one imagines he wasn't a very key client.

And so to the Morgan Stanley box. Their neighbours, UBS Warburg, whose box was full to brimming, dubbed it the Morgue-an Stanley box, and to be fair there wasn't exactly a crush to get in.

One Morgan Stanley managing director was in the UBSW box for a pint of Tetleys, and had a conversation with a UBSW managing director which went along the lines:

MD of Morgan Stanley: "Your box is doing well."
UBSW MD: " Yes, the pub theme is popular, do you have a theme?"
Morgan Stanley MD: "Um....well....I think it's......banking."

People in the Morgan Stanley box, in fact, displayed a serious desire to watch the rugby. Its chairman, Alasdair Morrison even had a pair of binoculars. Morgan Stanley did have some major corporate clients in its box, among them, DBS boss, Philippe Paillart, Chris Brown of Singapore Power and Michael Verge of PCCW. But to be fair, it was obvious within minutes of entering it that Morgan Stanley was not interested in winning this award.

It also became evident by Saturday afternoon that the battle for the best box was going to come down to UBSW versus JPMorgan.

JPMorgan's box was an enigma. The theme was questionable (an American diner), the costumes were dull, and yet on Saturday evening there was a real buzz about the box, and when the lights went off it turned into a veritable nightclub. Box organizer, Alex Penacott, at one point, was hoisted on some shoulders and passed around the dancing crowd. And if the talent on the pitch was at times questionable, inside the JP box that night there was a lot of talent indeed, including a few who scored straight 10s from a panel of fund managers.

The UBS Warburg Arms, on the other hand, was the last box to finish on the Sunday evening - indeed stadium staff had to close the thing. Given its ostentatious backing of the England team - with its own band playing Colonel Bogey each time England played - the atmosphere became carnivalesque thanks to Albion's surprise victory over Fiji - its first ever win at the Sevens.

The man behind the UBSW pub was Lee McQueen - aka "Lee the Landlord". His idea paid off as he created an authentic pub atmosphere with beers on tap, chatty Mancunian barmaids and authentic pub grub. They even reworked the flooring and tossed shavings all over it. On Saturday evening, a yard of ale competition was held.

There was also an authentic jukebox (although this was open to some box-sabotage, especially when one saboteur put on 10 very depressing Bob Dylan songs in a row). Beer consumption was aided by the serving of Tetleys. Heineken was not suffering for lack of attention either (so much of the Dutch beer was served on Saturday that a technician had to arrive to stop the two Heineken coolers from overheating and blowing up).

Attractive blonde face painters were also there to liven the day up for children. Then again, many of the children having their faces painted were over six foot and working actively in financial services.

Outside on the stand, UBSW created the rowdiest atmosphere with its band and in the end, it edges victory, although given how many awards it has won recently I am loathe to give this. But it is merited.

Anyway, it was a very tight contest with JPMorgan showing it still has some of the JF sense of fun, and it is thus runner-up.

As with last year, the winners will be tombstoned on the back cover of the April-May issue of FinanceAsia magazine.

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