Another one bites the dust

Jaguar, British Steel, Austin, Rover… Now the once grand ICI can join the ever-lengthening list of British industrial giants being sold off to foreign interests. The chemicals company has agreed to be taken over by its Dutch rival Akzo Nobel, in a deal valuing it at £8bn. ICI may have become a shadow of its former self in recent times, but the sale is still bound to raise emotion among a certain portion of the population.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
Back in its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s, ICI was as imperial as its name suggests, a vast manufacturing behemoth producing everything from paints to bulk chemicals explosives and pharmaceuticals, and was a pioneer in plastics. It was the benchmark for British industry. In 1984, John Harvey-Jones steered it to become the first British company to report pre-tax profits of £1bn. And if there were any doubts about its status as a national treasure, look at the uproar over the Hanson Trust approach in 1991. After buying a 2.8% stake, the conglomerate hinted it was thinking of buying the whole company; that these dealmakers could even consider handing the fortunes of a British institution to the interest of shareholders was met with outrage.

Now, however, that’s all a distant memory. ICI soon became just another British company, battling spiralling debt by shaving off its various different interests to create a slimmer but ultimately less powerful operation. The company has made 50 disposals in the past 10 years. It’s an all-too familiar story, and the end for ICI was always going to be less than glorious. But it’s still a poignant day for many in British business.

For memories of better days at ICI read MT’s interview with its legendary leader, John Harvey-Jones.

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