BTR buyout company aims to float within three years

UniPoly, the company formed to buy out a clutch of polymer products businesses from BTR for pounds 515m, is planning to float in the UK in the next three years. For BTR, the sale yesterday kick-started a radical disposal programme. Sameena Ahmad reports.
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The management buyout, organised at break-neck speed, was led by a group of BTR executives including Laurie Cant, chief executive of its polymers business, and Legal & General General Ventures, with finance provided by Fuji Bank.

The sale of 33 businesses, including one which makes water beds for cows, operates in 15 countries and employs 5,500 people, is the first step in BTR's plan to reshape itself from an unwieldy conglomerate to focus on engineering.

In September the company said it planned to dispose of businesses worth almost pounds 3bn in sales and a third of its total assets, by the end of 1998. The remaining BTR businesses to be sold include its packaging materials division, which reported sales of pounds 1.4bn last year.

Ian Strachan, BTR's chief executive, said: "This is an excellent start to our disposal programme. We have received a good price for a set of businesses that were only growing at 2 per cent a year and which we see little opportunity to develop."

He added: "The cash proceeds will be used to drive forward growth in our core global engineering businesses and a significant proportion will be returned to shareholders in due course."

Though the disposals had been well flagged, the news lifted BTR's share price a further 1.25p to close at 201.75p. Shares in the company have underperformed the market by a third in the last five years.

UniPoly's Mr Cant joined BTR in 1983 after the company took over Thomas Tilling, a company then three times BTR's size. He said he had only started negotiating with Ian Strachan, BTR's chief, in late August when rumours of the disposal plans were starting to circulate: "The speed in which this deal was completed is unprecedented. The number of companies and countries involved are huge."

Mr Cant said that the aim was to float Unipoly in the next three to five years: "These businesses are all profitable and growing fast. We plan to continue that growth and our aim is a public listing."

The businesses sold operate in the UK, Continental Europe and Australia and have net assets of pounds 180m, generating operating profits of pounds 65m on pounds 471m of sales last year.

The buyout is being paid for by pounds 175m of equity funded by UniPoly's management, which controls 18 per cent, and Legal & General Ventures. In addition the funding included pounds 50m of mezzanine financing and pounds 395 of senior debt from Fuji. Joining Mr Cant at Unipoly will be Ken Chave, finance director, also from BTR, and Ted Minick, a US lawyer, also on the executive board.