Greg Hutchings: Return of the wolf as deal hunter makes a comeback with Lupus

A day in the life of the Chairman of Lupus Capital

The man often characterised as the personification of 1980s capitalism is doing push-ups in his bedroom.

It's a big day for Greg Hutchings, the former boss of the industrial conglomerate Tomkins, now chairman of Lupus Capital.

After two years of promises, his modest £33.2m outfit is closing its first, long-awaited deal - the £84m takeover of Schlegel, a maker of seals for doors and windows. It's small beer, but significant: the first step towards building what Mr Hutchings intends to be a "mini-Tomkins with a private-equity twist".

The 59-year-old, who has been described more than once as "eating companies for breakfast", chooses two slices of toast instead.

He doesn't run or cycle the few miles from his West End flat to Lupus's offices within spitting distance of Buckingham Palace today, but eases into a 1994 maroon Mercedes 600 SL (number plate 21GH, with key welts down the driver's side wing and across the bonnet).

8.30am

In his office on the third floor, Mr Hutchings takes 45 minutes to carefully read the Financial Times, as he does every day.

A self-confessed efficiency obsessive in his private and work life, Mr Hutchings isn't a fan of meetings. He thinks the time they swallow can be better employed elsewhere. But this morning, he sets aside an hour to discuss with his Lupus colleagues the financial and organisational issues concerning Schlegel.

His four-stage approach to the latest deal is no different from the scores he has completed in the past. First, raise the cash to buy a business, then buy it, run it better and keep shareholders and customers happy. And talk to the press to raise the profile of the company.

Right now, Mr Hutchings is "wrapping a wet towel round the brain" to understand Schlegel inside out so that he may better run it.

The meeting closed, his secretary of 20 years, Vivienne, is left with a list of things to do, and Mr Hutchings sets off for another (presumably inefficient) meeting with his lawyers.

11am

A handful of Schlegel shareholders rubber-stamp the deal at a meeting in the City.

Lupus Capital (named, for those who missed out on a classical education, after the Roman word for wolf, not the nasty disease where the body attacks its owns cells and tissue) finally has its first deal under its belt.

Mr Hutchings' path to today is pot-holed with corporate glory, hyperbole, controversy, invective and eventually a very painful and public downfall.

The only child of a master mariner and his wife, Mr Hutchings was born in Venezuela in 1947. With no siblings or English-speaking pals, his South American childhood was troubled. "I was an only, lonely child," he says. "I hated it. It was a pain in the arse. Mercilessly lonely."

The seven-year-old master Hutchings was packed off to boarding school in England. At the posh Uppingham School in Rutland, he excelled in sport but struggled academically.

"I was really backward when I was a child," he says. "Education in Venezuela was not very good. So, when I got to England, I was immediately put in the bottom class. Most of my educational career was playing catch-up. I had a terrible complex until my 30s. My friends always thought I was a real dumbo."

A school leaver with scant idea of where he was heading, Mr Hutchings was a touch more entrepreneurial than most.

"I never knew what I wanted to do," he says. "But I always wanted to create something. I have always been driven and organised. I need stimulation."

He soon set up and ran his first business, a folk club in Gateshead, where he'd sing and play guitar three times a week (Dylan's tunes if not his politics). "God it was rough, but a wonderful education for a public school boy."

From there to Aston University and a degree in building and civil engineering, smartly followed by business number two: a consultancy in the construction industry.

Another few years and another new venture, sparked from an idea from an air hostess girlfriend: providing US teenagers with educational and sporting trips to Europe.

Both were sold after a couple of years, and he searched without success for a small public company to run and shape. "It was a bit of a low point in my career, very frustrating," he says.

Then a job ad in a Sunday newspaper changed his life.

Noon

A train from London's King's Cross station carries Mr Hutchings towards Stevenage, to meet the management of the latest firm he has bought out.

The first was made in his early 30s on behalf of the industrial conglomerate Hanson, where he was schooled in corporate finance. He responded to an ad for a corporate development manager there, and went about researching the company with characteristic vim.

"I was very lucky to get it," he says. "I was desperate. Eventually, I got down to the last three and got an interview with James Hanson. He asked me how I managed to get away with being a consultant aged 23. I told him that I put talcum powder in my hair. He thought that was so entrepreneurial, he gave me the job.

"It was a fun time. Hanson was hot on both sides of the Atlantic. It felt it could do anything, and it did."

He takes a tour of Schlegel's factory, chatting to workers, looking into its processes, and chews a chicken sandwich.

6.30pm

Sitting in a meeting room in the factory, Mr Hutchings leads a root-and-branch review of Schlegel's operation with bosses from the UK, the US, Belgium and Germany: its strategy, budget, products, new markets, marketing, industrial relations and one- and three-year plans.

He employs a modus operandi honed by years of deal-making at Tomkins, the industrial group he transformed from a £6m minnow into a global £5bn powerhouse.

In 1983, he cashed in the credibility he had earned within the City for buyouts for Hanson, borrowed £1.8m, bought a 22 per cent stake in Tomkins and took a seat on its board. A year later, aged 38, he took charge.

Over the next 17 years, Mr Hutchings embarked on series of high-profile acquisitions, including the US gun company Smith & Wesson and the flour and food group Rank Hovis McDougall, which he snatched from under the nose of his old master, Lord Hanson.

For a time, the "buns and guns" conglomerate, comprising some 70 disparate businesses, and its young boss, was the toast of the City. Mr Hutchings took home about £1.5m a year and his shareholders did nicely.

But then dot.com mania blew thorough the Square Mile, the old-economy companies became about as popular as zoot suits and brothel creepers, and Tomkins shares wilted. Investors grew restless.

Within a few months Mr Hutchings had resigned amid allegations played out on the business pages of every newspaper that he was running the company like his personal fiefdom, of flying hockey teams to matches in Tomkins jets, putting his wife and housekeeper on the payroll, and of making bogus expenses claims.

He settled out of court but was deeply scarred emotionally and reputationally by the affair.

"I did not feel like I wanted to work with people again. The sense of betrayal, loss and injustice was too great."

He filled his time with travel, an architecture course and "generally grieved a bit for a while".

8pm

Back in London, Mr Hutchings is running in Hyde Park. Now divorced, with three grown-up children, he wants to do it all over again.

"I missed the creativity of building a business," he says. "Life is not so fulfilling without a business interest."

He bought into Lupus with £2m in 2004, and wants to build another Tomkins, by acquisitions, but hold on to them for about seven years not up to 30 years. "It's the same as the 1980s for takeovers now. It's a very exciting time."

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