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Buyback king.

1995 Guy Readman, chairman, Tor Coatings, Birtley, County Durham.

Guy Readman and Tor Coatings are inseparable. He has twice sold the company he co-founded ( only to buy it back, each time with better prospects than before.

Tor's coatings have decorated the Sultan of Brunei's palaces and Big Ben, and have deterred would-be climbers of the Tyne Bridge.

Tor is a specialist manufacturer and supplier, whose paints and coverings range from being graffiti-resistant for school walls and railway bridges to being hygiene-enhanced for decorating hospital wards. They are used for roof waterproofing, floors, masonry and farm applications.

For all Guy looks a chemical scientist, he is a through-and-through businessman who has made it his job to understand the technicalities. Son of a former chief accountant of Peterlee Development Corporation who went on to be a top official of Durham coalfield, Guy was sent to Worksop College so did not live in the North-East himself until he was 17.

He took his chartered accountancy articles with Price Waterhouse before working at Procter & Gamble for six years. Then he became a fast-tracker at Rentokil as it went public. On joining the Sunderland paint group Camrex he rose to main board director.

"But at 35 or so," he recalls, "I decided I would always be falling out with bosses. I wanted to do things on my own."

In 1976 he left Camrex with two others from there and co-founded Tor Coatings at Washington. The firm relocated to Birtley 18 months later and exploded in size through acquisitions.

It did so well that when Guy looked for a buyer with greater resources, Barrow Hepburn paid pounds 4m in 1986. When that firm was itself taken over three years later, and Tor seemed to offer little interest to the new owner, Guy bought it back. When he won the North-East Businessman award in 1995, it was for impressing the judges with the company's superb profitability.

They admired his skilful use of acquisition as a means of growth, in hand with an organic nurturing of existing operations. It then employed about 80 people, had annual sales of pounds 6.7m and profits of pounds 1.4m.

But the story does not end there.

Soon after, he found another buyer ( for pounds 14.3m. European Colour was the buyer and Tor, with a turnover climbing on upward to pounds 11.5m, or a quarter of the total group sales, was largely left alone.

In 2002 Tor's Manchester-based parent found itself cash-strapped after buying its US partner, RFS Corporation, for pounds 5.6m the year before. It even had to sell its head offices and move to more modest premises.

When the opportunity arose to regain total autonomy for the Birtley operation, there was little hesitation. The company was showing pre-tax profits of pounds 2m and its future was bright. At pounds 13.5m it was a snip. The Bank of Scotland thought so too and backed Deancove, a company specially set up for the deal with Colin Carter as chief executive and Guy as non-executive chairman.

Colin, now 44, is as passionate as Guy about Tor. He had joined the firm as a trainee paint chemist at 16, soon after its start-up. He left in 1987 to set up a rival paint company. That was bought out by Tor in 1993, and two years later Colin felt drawn to Tor once more, especially as it was now bigger and he was to become chief executive.

There was now plenty of investor enthusiasm in perhaps the most important place; nearly 40 employees out of 150 have spent between pounds 5,000 and pounds 100,000 on shares. "That is why I was prepared to become involved in buying the company a second time," Guy says. "The commitment within the company swayed me."

With Guy holding a 50pc stake and the balance held within the company, Tor announced record profits and turnover the following year. Intent on further acquisitions, Tor's chance came this year with the purchase of Solignum in May and, in September, the business and assets of Glixtone Ltd ( noted for 125 years for its Blackfriars paints and varnishes. It had gone into administration.

Based at Bristol and employing around 45 people, Blackfriars is now Tor's merchant division, bringing added sales of pounds 5m. It also means 20 more jobs created, and the launch now of a major marketing force.

Guy, 65, says he is now retired but active. At Tor, he sees himself as advisor and mentor, a role he also performs for several small businesses. He is on the regional board of Young Enterprise and also serves with the Business Investors Group. He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Tyne and Wear in 2003.

He says: "It is a philanthropic responsibility of successful people to put something back into their community."

So in 1996, with Tor temporarily with European Colour (and he still non-executive chairman), Guy established the Readman Foundation. This feeds through the Community Foundation serving Tyneside, Wearside and Northumberland.

Guy explains: "When I sold Tor again in 1996, I was only 57 ( too young to sit around doing nothing. I decided it would be a good idea to set up a proper charitable foundation with the goal of helping young people to help themselves."

Young people who can already vouch for the benefit include:

* Sam Valentine, 17-year-old daughter of ex-Animals blues guitarist Hilton Valentine, who had a grant to help her secure an acting career

* Medal-winning dancer Abigail Mills, also 17, who had trouble finding tuition fees to attend the North-East's first full-time stage school until she got backing from the Readman Foundation and

* Liam Collins, 25, ranked fifth in the 400m hurdles for Britain, who was helped financially with his university studies as he trained for track honours.

Guy, who lives at Gosforth, also gives bursaries to encourage bright sixth form pupils of Royal Grammar School who might not get the opportunity there otherwise. It's amazing, as Guy has shown, how far a pot of paint or two can run to.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 5, 2004
Words:1008
Previous Article:1995.
Next Article:1996.


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