Kalms venture buys Amey unit

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The Independent Online

Sir Stanley Kalms, the former chairman of Dixons, marked his return to the City yesterday by snapping up a small part of Amey, the troubled support services group that was sold to Spain's Grupo Ferrovial last month.

Sir Stanley's new venture vehicle, Volvere, paid £2m for Amey's specialist consultancy arm, Vectra. Volvere - which comes from the Latin "to turn round" - was set up by Sir Stanley in partnership with his son, Richard, and brothers Nicholas and Jonathan Lander of Dawnay Day Lander, the technology venture capital and advisory business. Its mandate is to become a shareholder activist, taking stakes in under-performing or distressed companies with a view to improving shareholder returns.

Yesterday's acquisition marked Volvere's first move since it was floated in December on the Alternative Investment Market. It is chaired by Sir Stanley, who retired from Dixons last September after 54 years with the retailer. Volvere raised £3.5m, including £2m stumped up by its directors - rather less than the £10m to £20m it was aiming for.

Richard Kalms, Volvere's business development director, said Vectra was "not just another consultancy". It provides specialist technical and business consulting and environmental services, mainly to the nuclear, oil and gas, defence and transportation sectors.

"[These sectors] are regulatory driven and need more and more people to advise them to meet regulations on safety," Mr Kalms said, adding that Vectra had "lost its way" under Amey after its parent "lost interest in it".

One of Volvere's non-executive directors, Neil Ashley, was chairman of Amey for six years, so knows Vectra well, Mr Kalms said. The two groups have been negotiating the sale for the past couple of months, he added.

Vectra, which has net assets of £3.1m, made an audited loss before tax of £4.6m on sales of £25.7m last year. However, Volvere said this failed to "properly reflect Vectra's financial position" and that based on unaudited management accounts for the first four months of 2003, the business made a pre-tax loss of £0.8m or £0.35m before exceptional items.

Mr Kalms said Volvere was eyeing "a number of other opportunities" and that it particularly liked the consultancy sector. Mr Kalms, who spent 13 years working at his father's electrical retailer, has worked with the Lander brothers at DDL since 1999.

Sir Stanley, 70, who is also writing his autobiography, has taken a direct role at Volvere. He said the deal fitted in with Volvere's strategy to acquire companies "with good growth prospects at attractive prices and where we can provide hands-on support".

Separately, the European Commission yesterday approved the £81m sale of Amey to Grupo Ferrovial. The Spanish builder will also take on Amey's £190m in debt. No job losses are expected after the deal is completed.