Outlook: Lord Blyth sheds albatross at last

IT HAS taken Lord Blyth, chairman of Boots, 10 years to get the Ward White albatross off his back. When that deal was done, the reasoning was that with Boots the Chemists threatening to go ex-growth, the company had to diversify. So for the princely sum of pounds 900m, Lord Blyth acquired the peerless portfolio of Payless DIY (later merged with WH Smith's Do It All), AG Stanley (including Fads and Homestyle) and Halfords. That it was a disaster on a grand scale goes without saying. The housing boom turned into a bust and the brands revealed themselves as some of the weakest in their sectors.

Now Do It All has gone for pounds 68m (minus the small matter of a pounds 312m write off). AG Stanley has already been sold for pounds 1. So only Halfords, which at most would be worth half the balance, remains. Along the way, there's been untold investment in the three brands. Quite a squandering of shareholders money, then.

Ironically, while the Ward White businesses were heading south at a rate of knots Boots proved itself more resilient than anyone could have imagined. Far from being eaten away by the supermarkets, it has powered ahead regardless. It has consistently delivered margins of more than 10 per cent and accounts for 85 per cent of group profits.

It has even managed its own diversification - into travel insurance, home shopping and stores in Ireland, Holland and the Far East. Boots Healthcare International, maker of Nurofen, Strepsils and so on, is also prospering. At its most basic this is an argument for sticking to one's knitting, a lesson that WH Smith is now following with the sale of Waterstone's, Our Price and other periphery businesses.

What is not quite clear is how much of the credit should go to Lord Blyth. The plaudits might rather seem to belong to the management team at Boots the Chemist. In one respect Lord Blyth has achieved his ambition for the company. If memory serves, his aim was to take Boots from the bottom of the second quartile of the Footsie to the top. In that regard he has succeeded. Boots currently lies 27th. How much of a role Lord Blyth played in that assent is a matter of opinion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore