Lord Laidlaw sells IIR events firm for $1.4bn

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Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, the Scottish Tory party donor and philanthropist, has sold his conferences business, the Institute of International Research (IIR), for $1.4bn (£768m), and intends to embark on a programme of charitable giving worth up to £20m a year.

Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, the Scottish Tory party donor and philanthropist, has sold his conferences business, the Institute of International Research (IIR), for $1.4bn (£768m), and intends to embark on a programme of charitable giving worth up to £20m a year.

The Conservative peer, who was ennobled last year, has agreed to sell the Bermuda-based operation, which is the world's biggest conferences and training company, to T&F Informa, its biggest rival in the conference organising market.

T&F Informa, the UK-quoted group that was itself formed from a merger completed just a year ago, is paying cash for IIR, funded partly by debt and partly by a £311m issue of shares.

Lord Laidlaw is a Monaco-based tax exile who started IIR in 1973. He is one of the Conservative Party's biggest donors, having given nearly £3.5m in recent years. His peerage courted controversy when it emerged last summer that the House of Lords Appointments Commission had privately questioned his appointment, asking whether he would have qualified for a peerage if he had not given the money. However, Lord Laidlaw has emerged as one of Scotland's most generous sources of charitable aid, in particular to schools. A year ago he revealed his intention to sell IIR and donate up to £20m a year to good causes, a sum that would require an endowment of about £400m. That would still leave him with £314m from his 93 per cent stake in IIR.

Lord Laidlaw, 62, is a mill-owner's son from Banffshire. The deal catapults him into pole position as the richest Scottish-born entrepreneur, edging ahead of the retail mogul Tom Hunter.

This is not the first time the Scottish peer has tried to sell the business. He abandoned a flotation of the company on the New York Stock Exchange in 2002. However, yesterday's announcement of the trade sale sent shares in T&F Informa up 6.4 per cent to 434.5p as the market digested the formation of a new world leader in the events and conferences business.

IIR owns a number of high-profile conferences in the financial and life sciences industries. The private equity market congregates at IIR's Super Return conference and hedge funds regularly gather for its Gain conference.

IIR also has the rights to use the Adam Smith Institute name in Russia, where it organises a number of economics-related events.

IIR's other main line of business is the so-called "performance improvement" market, which is involved in training for US government departments and half of America's Fortune 500 companies. High-profile events involve the likes of the former president Bill Clinton delivering motivational speeches to management. This is long-term, contracted income and is seen as a more stable source of revenues than the conferences business.

Peter Rigby, the T&F Informa chief executive, said the deal would strengthen the UK group's presence in a number of industry areas but also complement it by boosting its presence in territories such as Russia and Australia, while taking it into new markets such as South Africa and Eastern Europe. Mr Rigby said: "After the deal the enlarged group will have only 4 per cent of its revenue from advertising, 15 per cent from specialist book publishing, 33 per cent from events and 26 per cent from subscriptions to academic journals. The rest will come from performance improvement. Subscriptions and performance improvement is the dependable source of revenue while the rest is much more operationally geared."

IIR had sales of $572.6m (£312m) in 2004, up 20.2 per cent, and earnings of $87.8m, which is up more than 100 per cent thanks in part to the acquisition of Robbins-Gioia.

T&F Informa said it expected to make savings as a result of the deal worth £8m in 2006 and £11m in 2007 mainly from property, IT systems, procurement and reduced central overheads.

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