Money making became a respected activity in the Thatcher era; paper millionaires mushroomed. Now we are left counting the casualties. Philip Beresford and Annabella Gabb report.
For the Sainsbury family or Garfield Weston of Associated British Foods, the Thatcher years certainly were good times. These models of quiet efficiency ignored much of the razzmatazz associated with booming stock markets, to emerge collectively some £2.5 billion wealthier in the eleven and a half years during which Mrs Thatcher occupied Downing Street.
These were the years of course when money making became respectable again in Britain. The enterprise culture was born and the number of new paper millionaires mushroomed from around 5,000 to 18,000. But the October 1987 stock market crash put paid to many ambitions.
In this article we catalogue the winners and losers among the businesspersons, who were held in such high esteem by the occupant of Number 10. Some were well known names who dominated the financial pages with their derring-do. Others ran discreet private companies, but prospered mightily in a climate created by deregulation and a curbing of what many perceived as excessive union power.
While no clear pattern actually emerges to explain the performance of our 20 "winners", the advance in their estimated wealth from their shareholdings was staggering. From a hefty £685 million in 1979, their combined share wealth rose to some £6.7 billion when Mrs Thatcher left office, a tenfold increase easily beating the 240% increase in the cost of living.
The winners encompassed all the various strands of business. Apart from those who largely followed the path of organic growth - the Sainsburys and Westons - there were the clever deal makers, such as Robert Maxwell, Sir James Goldsmith or Peter de Savary. Their main characteristic, as perfectly represented by Sir James, was their sense of timing. He famously bailed out of the market just before the October 1987 crash. Maxwell's good judgement came in taking over the BPCC printing business and transforming it into a global communications empire. Within the next few months he should garner the fruits of his £100 million purchase of Mirror Group Newspapers when it is floated on the market for £500 million or more.
Other winners cashed in on their success quite literally. The Beckwith brothers and Tony Clegg exited from property shares with perfect timing just before the current disastrous recession. Jack Walker and his brother Fred also managed to pick up a British record of £330 million for the sale of their stockholding business to British Steel last year.
Sadly, few of the early 1980s high flyers appear to have survived unscathed. Even Richard Branson had to take his Virgin group private with Japanese backing in order to prosper, while Anita Roddick's Body Shop, riding the environmental bandwagon, has taken a hammering of late in the stock market.
For many of the other '80s stars life has been tough of late. And that is reflected in the declining wealth fall of our 20 losers from their respective peaks. Collectively they were worth over £2.8 billion at their high point. By the time that Mrs Thatcher left office they were down to £455 million and falling fast.
In the early '80s the high flyers were in computers, profiting from a burgeoning interest in cheap microcomputers. But this sector was the first to feel the heat of intense competition and spiralling development costs.
From the middle of the decade retailing and agencies threw up new players. Stephen Marks of French Connection, Sir Bernard Ashley of Laura Ashley and Sock Shop's Sophie Mirman were typical of these stars. But today their shareholdings are worth a fraction of what they once were.
More recent casualties have been Asil Nadir and Roger Levitt, whose groups have now crashed with stunning speed. Just last year Nadir was worth nearly £500 million on paper. Today any share certificates that they own only have worth as collectors' items. But then as the lady said on leaving office: "It's a funny old world."