It isn't the first fortune he made but what he did with it that makes Alf Gooding proud: he gave some hope to the valleys. Christopher Blackhurst.
If Welsh nationalism ever takes hold and the need arises for the Principality's first premier, Alf Gooding would be a popular candidate. In the last few years, this multi-millionaire son of a Rhondda miner has brought hope and jobs to the valleys. He has also spoken out against regional incentives and City short-termism and in favour of more re-investment by fellow industrialists and greater education and training.
The 59-year-old Gooding has turned himself into a mouthpiece for Wales. A former Welsh head of the CBI, his speeches at the body's annual gathering have attracted national headlines and earned him a reputation as an anti-establishment figure. But Gooding's actions speak much louder than his words.
In 1985, his Race Electronics business employed 70 people. Today its workforce is up to 1,200 - 120 were added in the last two months' alone. While other Welsh businesses have gone to the wall in droves in the recession, Race has prospered - mainly due to a unique partnership with the Japanese: Race is 20% owned by C Itoh, the major trading house. The company makes components for virtually all the leading Japanese electrical groups like Epson, Konica, NEC, Ricoh, Toshiba and Star; most of the machinery in its five Welsh factories is Japanese (Race is the second biggest buyer in the world, after Sony, of Panasonic industrial plant); and two years ago, Gooding set up a separate manufacturing venture with another Japanese group, Sanken Electric.
Last year, Gooding Sanken created 200 jobs, all of them in Wales. Gooding guaranteed a lasting spin-off to Wales by insisting that the Japanese shed their usual reluctance and share their know-how secrets. Four Gooding graduate employees are now learning the ropes in Japan. Typically, Gooding does not choose the deal that made him personally rich as his best but the one that has proved to be of lasting value to Wales.
After training as a draughtsman, Gooding began his working life as a roofer. In 1958, having saved up £100, he started his own building firm. By 1966, he was building 500 council houses a year. Problems with suppliers forced him to set up his own concrete-making business. After that was sold, for £40,000 in 1969, he began Catnic Components, a steel lintel manufacturer.
In 1983, Catnic was sold to RTZ for £15 million and a personal profit to Gooding of £9 million. He ploughed the money into new ventures. "Selling Catnic was my second best deal. My best was the way I used that money, in particular, the purchase of Race," he says. He established the Gooding Group and bought a clutch of bankrupt companies with products ranging from washing machines to Christmas tree lights, metallic paper and one-arm bandits. The latter, Ace Coin, gave him the foundation for his present success.
Ace had a subsidiary, Race Electronics, specialising in making parts for the new BBC Acorn school computer and the fruit machines. Eventually, all the businesses, with the exception of Race, were sold. As a manufacturer of other people's electronic products, Race was in an expanding industry. It was also in the worst financial state of the six. In 1985, it was making a loss of £500,000 but he was certain of its growth potential.
He decided to tackle the world-leaders head on. "I got a chap to come and join me. He was a Welsh boy who had worked with Japanese firms. Brother Industries was just opening a new plant in Wales. We approached them and offered to provide a Japanese-type service of total quality." The Brother contract led to references to other Japanese. Once they saw the Japanese were flocking to Race, the major American and European electronic manufacturers followed suit. To fund Race's expansion Gooding sold 20% of the company to C Itoh and 24% to Citicorp, the US bank. In 1987, Race sales were £17 million. this year, they will be £100 million and profits should be around £3 million. A stock-market quotation is now on the cards, probably some time in 1993-1994.
His biggest regret is that others in Wales have not followed his example. "We have moved towards a service economy. Accountants and lawyers are important but at the end of the day it is making and selling things that is more significant. Without that there is no future."
Christopher Blackhurst is senior business writer on the Independent on Sunday.