New career for man they called 'Mr Magic'

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The Independent Online
JOHN HUMPHREY GUNN is one of the entrepreneurs who summed up the 1980s. The City credited him with a Midas touch, as he transformed the sleepy shipping line British & Commonwealth, owned by the Cayzer family, into a financial services group second only to Prudential.

Mr Gunn had travelled to Berlin in the 1960s, where he helped East Germans to cross the wall - he then considered an academic career teaching German.

He later made his name at the money broker Exco, with a deal worth pounds 450m in 1985 when the company sold Telerate. After he left in a huff, the Cayzer family took him on to run B&C, where they called him 'Mr Magic.'

There he bought out the Cayzers for pounds 400m, leaving B&C with a millstone of debt as deal followed deal. Then, in October 1987, Black Monday wiped 200p off B&C's shares.

Mr Gunn needed to re-establish B&C's position and repeat his earlier success with Telerate. It must have seemed that he had found a way when B&C bought Atlantic Computers in 1988.

He now contends: 'I was not at all keen about it.' But the rest of the board was enthusiastic.

It turned out that, according to the DTI, if proper accounting methods had been used, Atlantic would have never made a profit.' It took us nine months to find the truth about Atlantic. It took the inspectors four years,' Mr Gunn said yesterday.

When B&C crashed Mr Gunn helped the administrators and teamed up briefly with the undertaker Howard Hodgson. Now, Mr Gunn runs Business Angels, which invests in, and advises, small growing companies. He is also an executive with two quoted companies, an oil company, and a toy distributor. 'There's no institutional money. It's all family and friends, very quiet.'