UK: TONY BERRY, FORMER CHAIRMAN - BLUE ARROW. - Undeterred by the trials and tribulations that assailed his previous recruitment empire, Mr Blue Arrow Tony Berry is now running another employment services company, Recruit, which he bought for £1 million

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Undeterred by the trials and tribulations that assailed his previous recruitment empire, Mr Blue Arrow Tony Berry is now running another employment services company, Recruit, which he bought for £1 million in 1994, with backing from ADT chief Michael Ashcroft.

Recruit, which had 13 branches at the time Berry acquired it, now has around 35, and Berry has been very keen to float it as soon as possible - although observers argue that profit levels are still far too low to support the exercise. Berry's managing director, Jim Clarke, similarly expressed doubts about the timing of a flotation, only to leave the company a year ago. Berry is reported to have wanted faster profits growth to enable a fast flotation, while Clarke wanted a development path that meant different job sectors being handled by different branches.

It appears that all has not been harmonious with Ashcroft either: Berry pledged his shares in Tottenham Hotspur football club - where he is deputy chairman - as security to Ashcroft back in 1994. The shares were held by a Belize-registered company, Tony Berry Inc, whose 'agent' Ashcroft is. Mystery was rife back in the summer when 275,000 of Berry's 290,000 Spurs shares were sold by Tony Berry Inc at a price of 471p, netting a handsome total of £1.3 million. At first, the obvious perception was that Berry had sold the shares, an assumption he immediately contradicted, following up with a writ against the Belize company. The price of Spurs shares was just 80p when Ashcroft made the original loan to Berry, and the basis of the writ was that Tony Berry Inc had made an excess profit on the stake, particularly given its shares in Recruit.

Blue Arrow, where an £837 million rights issue triggered two huge City fraud trials, was sold to the Corporate Services Group, for £47.8 million last year.

George Davies, founder


If it has been your turn to do the supermarket run at any point over the last few years, chances are you've stumbled across '80s retailing tycoon George Davies' latest incarnation - his exclusive-to-Asda range of clothes.

It's a far cry from the yuppie aspirations of Next, the chain which a then flamboyant Davies launched in 1981, and which he expanded at madcap speed until nemesis struck. In 1988, when there were seven Next outlets on London's King's Road alone, when many of the shops couldn't even cover the rent, and when the share price was plunging dramatically, Davies was ousted in a boardroom coup.

Inundated with offers (and shored up by a reported pay-off of a reported £2.5 million), Davies promptly hooked up with Asda, only to lose his way briefly six months later. 'I lost the zest,' he said. With such hesitation behind him, however, the venture has worked well, so much so that last year Asda, which already had a 20% stake in the business, bought the rest of the operation for £15.9 million (of which, rumour has it, £2.2 million went to Davies). Davies was retained as a consultant, with incentives tying him into Asda for three years following the sale. Success here must have been some compensation for the failure of his mail-order business, Xtend, which went under in 1993.

Now a walking advertisement for his George range, Davies has lost his taste for the more ostentatious trappings of wealth, and long ago bid farewell to the chauffeur-driven Bentley and personal helicopter.

Roger Felber, former chairman


Five years ago, Roger Felber lost everything when his Parkfield conglomerate went bust after its entertainment business started eating up cash. Three years ago, Felber was back - with 3i, Europe's largest private equity supplier, on his team.

In the interim, he'd done 'wheeling, dealing and some consultancy,' says Felber. 'England is a country where if you have had a knock, it is difficult to get back into big business - certainly more difficult than in the US where if you have been in five businesses, probably one will have failed.' (This may explain why Felber spent the first 18 months after Parkfield's collapse in South America, his wife's home continent - until the terrorist group Shining Path got a little too active for comfort, that is.)

It was a chance conversation with a 3i director three years ago which proved a turning point for Felber. 'He said, "Why don't you go back to doing what you're best at - finding businesses, doing a deal, turning the business around and selling it at a profit?",' recalls Felber. So after 3i spent a couple of months checking up on him, he found a suitable company to buy, and the two were in business.

The company Felber found was Tuftop, a kitchen cutting board manufacturer that he bought for around £1 million and sold on for twice that amount 15 months later. Turnover in that time had grown from £1 million to £3 million.

Felber remains chairman of Tuftop, in which he retains a stake. But he is now more involved in his latest venture: the Taylor Berman Group, made up of a giftware and houseware import and distribution business he bought from Rank for around £5.5 million nearly two years ago, and a similar business called Berman International in which Felber has a 50% stake. And, yes, further acquisitions are on the cards, Felber confirms.

John Gunn, former chairman

British and Commonwealth Holdings

The ex-chairman of British and Commonwealth Holdings, which went bust in 1990, now heads a consultancy and venture capital firm called John Duncan and Company. Gunn founded the company - which advises firms such as Glenchewton and Floral Street - three years ago with a former B&C colleague.

Tellingly, Gunn, who was brought down by what he once called the 'poisoned gobstopper' - the acquisition of Atlantic Computers and its highly irregular accounting procedures - says the firm employs six people and will probably not expand further. The staff represent 'enough people to do a good job on a number of companies, keeping tabs on what's going on'.

Gunn hit the headlines again earlier this summer over a dispute concerning Chelsea Village, the quoted vehicle for Chelsea football club. Although Gunn holds around 20 directorships, Chelsea Village's advisers Neil Clerk opposed his appointment as a non-exec since the DTI is seeking to disqualify Gunn for his role in B&C's collapse. Gunn, who is now himself an adviser to Chelsea Village, originally threatened legal action but was pacified by Chelsea chairman Ken Bates.

B&C's former head says the disqualification threat is a constant sore, particularly since the case is unlikely to be resolved until the end of the decade. 'It is very irritating: regulation means you are guilty until proven innocent. I have to put up with this day in, day out. I have to live with it.'

Sophie Mirman, founder

Sock Shop

The face that launched a thousand Sock Shops (or so it seemed at the time), is now to be found in the smarter parts of west London where Mirman and her husband, Richard Ross, run two one-stop children's shops called Trotters. Shoe fittings, haircuts, children's toys, clothes, videos, cacophony - it's all there. 'We have tried to create an emporium for children aged 0-eight,' says Mirman, who was keen that her new outlets should be free of high-street volume controls: 'We wanted a noisy environment, which makes it relaxed for the children ... and encourages them to bring their parents.'

Mirman and Ross opened the first Trotters in the autumn of 1990, just months after Sock Shop - which had once had a paper value of £60 million - was sold to a venture capitalist for £3 million.

'We did ask ourselves whether we just wanted to go and hide away in the country somewhere,' says Mirman. 'Then we decided that to retire at 35 was a little young, and would feel very boring.' Coupled with which, a site on the King's Road, which the couple had been eyeing up for ages, suddenly came up for grabs.

Six years on, business is going well, says Mirman, with both shops 'extremely profitable; turnover is well in excess of our initial expectations'.

But there are no plans to expand: 'I am very happy with two successful shops'.

The couple took some of the lessons from the '80s to heart: unlike Sock Shop, Trotters will remain private and has no borrowings. And those who want the Trotters experience will probably have to travel for it - unlike Sock Shop where the aim, says Mirman, was to have so many outlets that it became 'as easy for a woman to buy a pair of tights as for her to buy a newspaper'.

Bill Rooney, founder

Spring Ram

You've got to give Bill Rooney credit for a sense of irony - after all, if you fell from grace in one firm, formed another and built it up to become a rival of the original, what name would you choose for the second firm? Full Circle Industries - the name Rooney has chosen for his latest bathrooms and kitchens vehicle - seems to do the job very nicely.

Back in 1993, institutional investors insisted that Rooney, then chairman of City darling Spring Ram, resign after accounting inaccuracies were disclosed and the profit warning in 1992 was swiftly followed by another.

Rooney started staging his comeback over the winter of 1994/95 when he, together with former colleagues from Spring Ram, acquired a large stake in, and management control of, troubled shower and mirror company Atreus.

It quickly hit the acquisition trail (notably of kitchen firms including Rooney's own) and gained a new name.

Atreus reported losses just shy of £1 million in 1994, a figure cut by one third last year. This year 'the original Atreus businesses have been restored to profitability,' said local investors' newsheet, Yorkshire Focus, in August. Turnover last year was £7.2 million.

Although Rooney has remained focused on home improvement, he branched out in 1994 when he reputedly invested £20 million in a Barbados resort.

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