Created to take on the world - and it won

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The Independent Online
THERE is a certain irony in the fact that a company created in one of the the largest-ever corporate mergers should now be considering splitting itself into two.

Imperial Chemical Industries was born in 1926 from the amalgamation of Britain's four largest chemicals groups - Brunner Mond, which specialised in alkalis; the explosives manufacturer Nobel Industries; the British Dyestuffs Corporation; and the United Alkali Company. The aim was to create an industrial giant with the muscle to take on the world's biggest. In that it has succeeded handsomely.

Its products touch the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in this country and most others throughout the world.

It makes everything from beta-blockers and anti-cancer drugs to Dulux paint, Perspex, women's stockings, carpet tiles and Quorn protein meat substitute. Its seeds are used to make tomatoes juicier; its insecticides make sure they reach the shops intact.

ICI's 15,000 different products sell in 150 countries and can be found everywhere from the home and garden to the office, factory and car - whether it be in the shape of insulation, bathware, leather finishes, dyestuffs, inks, fertilisers or seat covers.

According to PaineWebber, the US investment bank, it is the third largest chemical company in the world. It is Britain's largest manufacturer and its second-biggest exporter after British Aerospace. Even after the split the two companies will be significant players.

The two halves will retain key positions in their markets. Zeneca, the biochemicals business, will house the second-largest producer of agrochemicals, such as herbicides and insecticides, the fifth-largest producer of seeds and the 20th drug company.

ICI itself will be the world's largest paint producer and explosives manufacturer. And it is determinedly trying to make itself a leading producer of acrylics.

Last year the combined sales were pounds 12bn - pounds 1bn below their 1989 peak, a third of which arose in Zeneca. From 1986 to 1989 ICI made more than pounds 1bn profit a year, peaking at pounds 1.5bn in 1989. But the collapse of demand for chemicals in the recession saw profits before tax and exceptionals fall to pounds 565m last year, with Zeneca providing the lion's share.