Outlook: Sir Donald's exit is as well timed as his entry

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The Independent Online
SIR DONALD GOSLING and Ronald Hobson, the duo who founded a dull old car park business 50 years ago only to discover they had a goldmine on their hands, look like they are selling out at the top of the market. The pounds 800m that Cendant of the US is paying for National Parking Corporation (National Car Parks to the rest of us) may only represent a 17 per cent premium. But this is hardly the most liquid of stocks, given that 72 per cent of it is in just two pairs of hands. What's more, those institutions who bought into NPC back in 1986 have already had their stake money back and can now look forward to a four-fold return on their original investment.

The plan had been for the two founders to hang on for a demerger of NPC's Green Flag roadside breakdown business later this year and the flotation of the car parking operation after that. But neither of them is getting any younger, Mr Hobson is 77 and Sir Donald is 69, and a flotation would not have allowed either to cash in all their chips at once.

There was plenty of talk yesterday about how Cendant will use its muscle as a "global provider of consumer and business services" to sell customers of NCP's car parks everything from car rentals to hotel rooms.

It is certainly true that for a business akin to a license to print money, NCP has been run in the most primitive of manners. It only discovered the computer three years ago, and most of the transactions still involve cash being handed over at the kiosk. So there is more business to be leveraged off its 65 million customers a year.

But the environment is not getting any kinder for motorists, particularly those who drive to NCP's city centre sites. Gordon Brown did not clobber car parking perks this time around but maybe he will next year. Meanwhile public transport, not the private car, looks like the business to be in. The departing duo at NCP may have timed their exit almost as well as their entry.

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