UK: The enhancement of Hanson. (5 of 8)

UK: The enhancement of Hanson. (5 of 8) - In a dramatic year that saw Hanson's boardroom pay jump from £3 million to £6 million, with the chairman tucking away £1.3 million personally, the formidable group decided to streamline its image. In November 198

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In a dramatic year that saw Hanson's boardroom pay jump from £3 million to £6 million, with the chairman tucking away £1.3 million personally, the formidable group decided to streamline its image. In November 1987 Hanson Trust became simply Hanson. A massive clearout of "surplus" assets took place the following year and by late 1988 Hanson was pillowed by a £1 billion net cash pile. Comforted by this, at the age of 66, Lord Hanson deferred to a small indulgence. Again borrowing an American idea, he set up Hanson Radio, which a year later won a radio licence for Melody Radio. The chairman reputedly insists that it croons away during meetings.

After a two-year hiatus peppered by more sales, Lord Hanson revealed a peculiar new taste, this time for a most unfashionable commodity - gold. In June 1989, as Consolidated Gold Fields reeled from an unsuccessful onslaught by the South African controlled Minorco, Hanson put a fresh £3.1 billion on the table. Minorco, legally restrained in its own bid, happily handed over its 30% stake, and after some quibbling Gold Fields recommended a revised £3.5 billion Hanson offer.

Once the bid was won, the first nugget to go was a 38% stake in Gold Fields of South Africa, sold, ironically, to Minorco at a 23% premium. The Gold Fields office staff, described by the Financial Times as "one of the mining world's most authoritative technical and research teams", was made redundant and the St James headquarters sold. The Australian Mount Goldsworthy and parts of ARC building materials group were also sold. The total haul was £1 billion. It was in this year too that Hanson underwent major cosmetic surgery for tax purposes, a "secret" £9.5 billion reshuffle of assets that has encouraged further innuendo about Hanson's already shrouded image.

After gold came energy. Hanson swooped on Peabody, America's biggest coal producer, with a $1.2 billion deal sealed in early 1990. The purchase injected over $700 million into part-owner Newmont Mining, an act which in turn helped to dress up this Hanson subsidy for a sale. Hanson's new interest in energy turned homewards. As Energy Secretary John Wakeham spoke earnestly about a sale of the English power generators, Lord Hanson floated the suggestion of a private purchase of PowerGen. A furore followed; Hanson was quietly shown out.

The Newmont burden was unloaded later that year. Sir James Goldsmith, the green retiree, took a liking to his namesake metal and swapped his Cavenham Forest Industries for Hanson's Newmont stake. Who was the wiser we have yet to see.

This year began with Hanson warning ominously that the recession was likely to curb earnings. The press also noted that Hanson's interim results, stripped of interest savings and exchange rate movements, showed only a 2.6% profit rise.

But clearly, with the recession bottoming out and institutional investors itching for gains, Hanson was due for another fell swoop. Speculation was spun out for over a year and was satisfied on Tuesday May 14 when 2.8% of ICI was bought in a precision operation by Smith New Court. Lord Hanson, the "terrific guy", the "bully", the "ultimate fund manager", calmly enjoying the view from his headquarters overlooking Hyde Park Corner, had made another "investment".

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