Jatania clan fosters unloved brands in the family way

Business Profile: Asian brothers whose motto: Let dynasty not become 'Dallas', has kept feuds at bay

Mike Jatania has just stepped out of a conference for family businesses at the The Dorchester hotel in London. He attends the event every year with his three brothers who between them run the Lornamead health and beauty products empire which has an estimated market value of £550m. This makes the Jatanias the second richest Asian family in Britain, after the Mittals.

But despite their obvious success, the brothers still find the event useful to pick up tips. "It's always very interesting," says Mr Jatania, an immaculately groomed 38-year-old with a crisp black suit and gold tie which seem to match the plush hotel surroundings. "We have the Peugeots (of French car manufacturing fame) speaking here this time. We have case studies from businesses which are into their 10th generation. There are talks on conflict resolution, succession policy, whether the in-laws are outlaws and so on. People tend to think that family businesses are small but that's not necessarily true. Ikea is a family business. Mars is a family business."

Though Lornamead is still only in its first generation, it has grown quickly to include household names such as Harmony hairspray, Lipsyl lip balms and Amplex deodorant. Its strategy is to buy up unwanted brands from the major multinationals like Unilever and Bristol-Myers Squibb and take them back to the big time.

The family also controls about £80m of property in Paddington and Elephant & Castle as well as a wine and spirits import and expert business.

The company's management structure is unusual in that the business includes all four Jatania brothers, though the youngest sibling, Mike, is chief executive. "We all have our defined roles," he says. "George, who is 53 now, founded the group. He's a true entrepreneur. Danny, 43, runs the finance and administration of the family businesses. Vin, 47, concentrates on international business development. That Mike Jatania has ended up running the show when he is the youngest sibling might seem strange but he says it is not a source of tension. "Everyone has different abilities," he says. "The family has recognised that my leadership will probably have the desired investment return. I'm a strategic thinker."

The family is so close that they all live in the same luxury block of apartments in Marble Arch, overlooking Hyde Park. They have six flats in total, one each for the four brothers, one for his father, who is 91, and one spare. "No one lives there. We just keep that one for entertaining," he explains. Asked if it ever gets a bit claustrophobic, living on top of each other like that, he replies: "We enjoy it and it has just evolved that way. We see it as a source of strength."

The family seems to have its own ways of dealing with any pressure. "Let dynasty not become Dallas" is the family motto, coined to remind them to avoid family feuds. He admits the proximity can have its downsides, though: "You don't get away from the dynamics of the business. You can't just switch off easily."

Not that the driven Mr Jatania comes across as a man who wants to switch off. Yes, he likes the trappings of success like his Bentley Arnage, his regular visits to top London restaurants and his passion for expensive clothes. But his end-game is really rather simple. "I just want to make lots of money," he says with a beaming smile. He is about to up the ante again with another couple of acquisitions. "We have two deals at indicative offer stage," he says. "One is a brand but if I told you which type of product sector it's in, everyone would guess it." He won't disclose the precise value but says they are worth "hundreds of millions of dollars".

Part of the proceeds are coming from Epic Brand Investments, a joint venture between Lornamead and Epic Investment Partners which raised £50m via a stock market float on Aim at the end of last year. "It is a toe in the water of a bigger idea," he says. "We would like to do much larger deals and use the capital markets."

The fund has already snapped up two assets. In December it bought Natural White, a maker of tooth whitening toothpaste which operates across North America and gives Lornamead manufacturing capacity (it currently outsources all manufacturing). In April it picked up Network Health & Beauty, a UK company which owns the Te Tao haircare brand and a distribution business which will enable Lornamead to bring its distribution in-house. This will give it a salesforce that can deal directly with the likes of Boots and Superdrug.

A stock market float is a possibility. "I think the chances are that, yes, at the right time and with the right conditions it is possible," Mr Jatania says. "We could reverse our entire holding into a plc vehicle. It would give the family a potential exit and improve liquidity." He denies there is any pressure from the family to sell: "There's none whatsoever."

Indeed, listening to Mr Jatania he begins to sound more like a private equity investor than just an entrepreneur. He talks of investing in local products and taking them overseas, while harvesting others which have strong cash flow. He even touches upon a "buy and build" approach which will see Lornamead become a private equity specialist in the personal care sector, snapping up ill-considered trifles and putting them together with existing assets. "I'm very interested in private equity at the moment," he enthuses.

Mr Jatania has a British passport but was born in Uganda of Indian parents who moved to Leicester in 1969 and to London in the 1970s. He was going to be a doctor but his brother George had started up a toiletries business trading goods with Africa and Mike eventually joined after dashing through an accountancy course. "I worked at the business in the holidays and got the bug," he says.

His other interests include watching Chelsea Football Club and following most other sports. "I play tennis and I've just learned to scuba dive," he says. Cricket is another great love and he used to turn out for Leicestershire under-12s.

Still unmarried, he must be one of the most eligible bachelors in London. But he won't even say if he is dating. "No comment," he says with a smirk. Asked how far he thinks he can take Lornamead, he responds. "I'd like to build this business into a very large business. My ambition is for a billion-dollar company in terms of sales." Don't bet against him achieving it.

MIKE JATANIA - INSIDE THE BIG BROTHER HOUSE

Position: Chief executive Lornamead Group

Age: 38

Pay: Undisclosed.

Education: Marylebone Grammar followed by Dulwich College; studied accountancy at South Bank Polytechnic.

Career record: Joined the family business in 1985. Became chief executive in 1990.

Interests: Opera, theatre and restaurants. Sport, particularly tennis and cricket.

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