Bunhill: Son steps out of father's shade

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The Independent Online
MARTIN FRANKLIN is not nearly as sinister as he looks, indeed he's only wearing the shades to advertise the fact that his company, Benson Eyecare, distributes Foster Grant products in the US. He is also that rarest of phenomena, the son of a tycoon who has made a proper business career for himself.

His dad Roly first came to fame in the early 1970s as a director of ill-fated merchant bank Keyser Ullman. After the crash of '74, he moved to New York with the young Martin and helped Sir James Goldsmith mastermind a series of highly lucrative break-up operations before retiring to an idyllic villa on the dream island of Jumby Bay off Antigua.

After a stint at Rothschild's in New York, Martin helped dad with a pounds 700m bid for DRG, the paper and packaging group best known for the Dickinson writing paper that used to grace every upper-class writing table. Unfortunately DRG was in a far worse state than the Franklins thought. As a result, but unusually for such an operation, it was the shareholders, not the bankers, who lost out.

After an apprenticeship which he describes as a 'fairly rude awakening', Martin turned his attention to building up an international business in the eye-care and sunglasses business. 'I was trying to build something and not copy my dad and Sir James in getting businesses ready for sale.' He bought control of Benson without any help from dad, and then bought a 28 per cent stake in a small British company, Kitty Little, which last week hit the big time by bidding for L'Amy, the biggest maker of spectacle frames in France.

Franklin's sober and independent business-building stands in stark contrast to the careers of the scions of other tycoons. Some, like Robert Hanson and Martin Weinstock, are sensible enough to take refuge in their daddies' empires. But others are bolder.

The jury is still out on the efforts of John Porter to show himself worthy of grandpa Jack Cohen, founder of Tesco, or of ma, Lady Porter, but another scion came a real cropper a few years ago. Alan Clore, the only son of Sir Charles, was one of the big losers from Black Monday in 1987 when his ambitious scheme to gain control of KaiserTech resulted in tears, big losses, and humiliating proof that son didn't have it in him to follow in father's footsteps.

Some kids, of course, flee from the corporate world. Peter Holmes a Court, son of late Robert, has just joined Billy Boesky, son of Ivan, to put on a play off-Broadway entitled Fallen Angel - no, not about Peter's dad, but rock 'n roll.

But surely the best of all lives has been led by one Tim Jefferies, ex-hubbie of Koo Stark, and the rumoured husband-to-be of model Elle 'the body' MacPherson. Routinely described as 'Green Shield stamps heir', it transpires that young Tim, while indeed a grandson of stamp tycoon Richard Tompkins, has inherited a mere pounds 500,000 trust fund, and that grandpa left such an entanglement of ex-wives that he is highly unlikely to get any more of his pounds 35m estate.

(Photograph omitted)