Profile: A chance in a million: Greg Hutchings is unrepentant about his salary of pounds 1m a year. As the life and soul of the Tomkins conglomerate, he reckons he's worth every penny. Richard Thomson reports

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The Independent Online
THE headquarters of Tomkins, one of the stock market's fastest-growing companies, is an unassuming brick building behind bushes opposite East Putney Tube station in London. There is, however, nothing unassuming about Greg Hutchings, the company's chief executive and driving force. Nor about his salary. Last year, he was paid just short of pounds 1m, putting him among the country's highest-earning executives.

To many people, this kind of remuneration, especially in the middle of a recession, is crass and offensive. Not to Hutchings, though. 'Other people at the top, like Nigel Mansell and Rod Stewart, are paid huge sums of money, so why not businessmen?' he demands unrepentantly.

Pop stars and sportsmen, you might argue, are paid so much because they are unique. Are the likes of Hutchings equally rare in the business world? 'Yes,' he replies without hesitation. No false modesty here.

Nearly half his impressive salary is a bonus calculated on a mixture of Tomkins's share price, dividend and earnings per share. So although the group's profits rose only 18 per cent to pounds 132m and dividends were up 15 per cent last year, Mr Hutchings's bonus rose 140 per cent to pounds 492,000.

'There has to be a profit increase for the management to get any bonus at all. Investors should be happy. They've seen their money multiply by about 40 times over the last 10 years.

'If there's nothing in it for shareholders, there's nothing in it for management,' Hutchings adds. 'Write that down.' It is the distillation of his business philosophy.

At his waist Hutchings, 45, usually wears a large metal belt buckle embossed with a picture of a Smith & Wesson revolver - the type you see in Westerns. (Tomkins, a conglomerate which includes buckles among its products - as well as bicycles, valves and lawnmowers - owns Smith & Wesson). With his lean figure and slight tan, he even faintly resembles the Hollywood image of a gunfighter.

The buckle, however, is about all the showmanship there is about him. His manner is low-key and brisk, his comments often followed by a disconcertingly earnest stare. His somewhat impersonal office is almost obsessively tidy and functional.

The son of an oil executive, he was born in Venezuela and sent to prep school in England. Until he was 14 he saw his parents only rarely which, he has said, made him very self-reliant. He did not shine at school nor, indeed, for several years afterwards. He did science A-levels and drifted into the construction industry for lack of other ideas.

After four years at Costain he had had enough. He started a holiday company for Americans visiting Britain, ran it for seven years, then went to university to do an MBA. He had discovered that he had an unsatisfied entrepreneurial bent.

He knew he wanted to work for a large company, but feared he was becoming unemployable because of his peculiar and patchy experience. In the late Seventies, however, he got his big break. He went for an interview at Hanson Trust. He told Lord Hanson how he used to put talcum powder in his hair to make himself look older when dealing with clients in the construction industry. He got the job.

'There was an element of frustration before this. I always knew what I wanted to do, but had not found how to get there.' At Hanson, he suddenly arrived.

It was a stroke of luck. Despite his obvious belief in his abilities as a businessman, Hutchings has an almost superstitious belief in Lady Luck. 'I was incredibly lucky to get the Hanson job. You always need luck.' It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Most entrepreneurs, he believes, simply keep trying and trying until something comes along that they happen to be extremely successful at. That's luck. It never happens to some people, but it happened to him. And he is obviously grateful. Working at Hanson was evidently a revelation to him. 'The important thing I learned from Hanson and (Lord) White was their attitude of, 'We can do it and we can do it now.' Everyone had a tremendous responsibility to perform.'

He appears to have absorbed the Hanson philosophy like a sponge: the value of low-tech non-cyclical businesses, a slim central management, a minimum of bureaucracy, and above all giving shareholders value. 'I didn't know any better, I suppose,' Hutchings admits. But it is a philosophy that has served him well for more than a decade.

After three years at Hanson he struck out on his own, at last feeling that he was in his element. He was lucky again. It was the start of the Eighties, the perfect decade in which to build a conglomerate. He borrowed money and bought Tomkins, a pounds 5m fastenings company.

He persuaded Ian Duncan, who had turned him down for a job at another company several years earlier, to come and be finance director of the new venture. More luck. Duncan is still there, and he earned nearly as much as Hutchings last year.

A series of acquisitions followed, and 11 years later Tomkins is worth about pounds 1.4bn, with a strong stock market following and an impressive record of profit growth. The main difference between Tomkins and Hanson, apart from size, is that Hutchings does not sell his businesses. He does not believe he is as good at the game of buying and selling as Hanson. Efficient management is his strength.

He sees himself as the soul of the company, setting its objectives, its philosophy and its culture. He also sees himself as a generalist among specialists, pulling the whole group together, which suits his character. 'I need to be doing things all the time, to be stimulated,' he says.

His private life is as busy as his work, with several games of tennis a week, hockey at weekends and constant socialising with his wife, Caroline, who runs a film and television casting company. He obviously enjoys the rewards of success: a house in Surrey, another in Portugal, a Rolls-Royce, and enormous self-confidence.

The trouble with success, however, is that it gets harder and harder to maintain. 'The longer and better your track record, the more you worry,' Hutchings admits. Yet he has no desire to do anything other than run Tomkins for the next 20 years. You cannot, after all, take your luck for granted. 'I wouldn't strike out again, because I don't think I'd be lucky enough in the timing and in getting good people.'

And for another thing, he loves his job. He has the comfortable, satisfied air of a man who has found his metier. He likes the variety of running his businesses, but he also enjoys being in charge. He insists this is not a power kick, but more of a personal need. 'I need to feel I stand or fall by my own decisions. But there's not much fun in being boss. It's necessary, but it's lonely and a huge responsibility.

'It has also got its compensations,' he concedes. One of them is to be paid pounds 1m a year.

(Photograph omitted)

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