Lord Ashcroft to add US firm to his empire

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The Independent Online

Lord Ashcroft, the controversial billionaire businessman and Conservative Party treasurer, is poised to expand his business empire with the acquisition of an American human resources company.

Lord Ashcroft, the controversial billionaire businessman and Conservative Party treasurer, is poised to expand his business empire with the acquisition of an American human resources company.

Lord Ashcroft, who has scuppered an attempted management buy-out of Professional Staff, is now expected to win control of the group.

The failed bid, which was backed by Granville Baird, needed the approval of 90 per cent of Professional Staff shareholders. However, a combination of Lord Ashcroft's own 2.8 per cent stake and the 7.2 per cent holding built up by Carlisle Holdings, his main business vehicle, was enough to stymie the plan. He is now expected to proceed with a bid for full control. A spokeswoman for Lord Ashcroft declined to comment on his intentions.

A successful bid by Lord Ashcroft would help banish the memory of recent setbacks. Last year he tried to acquire Corporate Services Group but his bid for the training company failed. More recently, an offer for a support services operation, RCO Holdings, was trumped by a Danish interloper. Meanwhile, Lord Ashcroft embarked on a legal action against the Times newspaper which has since been settled.

Lord Ashcroft's wealth, which has been estimated at £1bn, was entirely self-made. He started in 1973 with a £15,000 loan to buy a cleaning company, which he sold in 1978 for £1.3m. He is later thought to have made £175m from the sale of his ADT security business to Tyco, the US group.

Carlisle, 60 per cent owned by Lord Ashcroft, was formed last year by the merger of two of his companies to provide a variety of services to around 10,000 customers, mostly in the US. In the same year he was finally awarded a life peerage, though this is conditional on his return to the UK from his adopted home of Belize. He continues to be the Conservatives' key fund-raiser.

The other bid for Professional Staff was put together under the name of First Saddle and valued the company at $72.3m (£50m). But Lord Ash-croft and Carlisle are thought to have built up their stakes, and eventually First Saddle could command the support of only 82 per cent of investors.

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