Hutchings a chip off the rival block

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IN JULY 1983 Greg Hutchings struck out from his job at from Hanson Trust, borrowed pounds 1m and bought F H Tomkins, an industrial fasteners company valued at pounds 5m, writes Terence Wilkinson.

His first purchase, the motor components distributor Ferraris in 1984, was a modest pounds 2.2m affair. Seven acquisitions later, Tomkins is poised - if its pounds 926m agreed offer for RHM goes through unchallenged by Hutchings' former employer - to emerge with a market value of pounds 2.6bn.

Hutchings, 45, who earned pounds 995,000 for his labours last year, learned a clutch of valuable lessons after joining Hanson for four years at the tail end of the Seventies.

Low-tech, low-risk businesses run by extremely tight financial controls have been Tomkins' meat and drink for nearly a decade and have helped it produce far above average returns for its shareholders. Where Tomkins does part company with Hanson is in its preference for building up the companies it acquires, and rarely selling off businesses even if it takes a vigorous attitude to cost-cutting, particularly overheads such as plush US-style head offices.

Tomkins' acquisition trail has taken it in to some predictably sober areas of manufacturing. Over the years it has accumulated interests in non-ferrous plumbing products, steel toe caps, air conditioning components, acrylic baths and vinyl windows.

On the way there has been the odd headline-grabbing product like Hayter lawnmowers and Murray mountain bikes to lighten its grey image.

In 1987 Tomkins bought Smith & Wesson, the US maker of handcuffs and revolvers. Hutchings frequently sports a large metal belt buckle depicting the company's famous revolver.

None of these could compare with the initial disbelief that greeted Tomkins' agreed move on RHM yesterday. But Hutchings calmly explained to a shaken and none-too-convinced room of investment analysts yesterday that making bread and making widgets were the same activity.

How does he feel about challenging his former mentor? 'We had already spent a lot of time and money on preparing an offer for RHM before Hanson bid. It's a shame,' he said, diplomatically.

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