Tetra founder calls it a day

MAGNUS GRIMOND

Britain's richest partnership is coming to an end, but for a change this split has nothing to do with the marital problems of the royal family. In fact, despite the fact that the pair in question last year overtook the Queen - with personal wealth now estimated at around pounds 4bn - they shun the limelight and are far better known for what they make than who they are.

Hans Rausing and his brother Gad amassed their fortune through the Tetra Pak Brik carton, a simple invention which has revolutionised the packaging of everything from milk to fabric conditioner. The two Swedes moved to Britain in the 1980s, apparently drawn by the new entrepreneurial spirit being fostered by Mrs Thatcher.

Now Hans, who will turn 70 next year and has been managing director of Tetra for the past 40 years, has decided to bow out along with the rest of his family. In future Gad, along with daughter Kirsten and sons Finn and Jorn, will take full responsibility for the world's largest packaging firm, with sales of about pounds 5.6bn last year.

In a statement from its headquarters in Stockholm, the company said Hans wanted to retire, while his children wanted to pursue their own careers. The two brothers first announced their retirement two years ago. At that stage, they had already been taking a back seat role at the company for some years, leaving day-to-day control in the hands of four managers, including Professor Goran Grosskopf, the first non-Rausing chairman.

He replaced Hans after the takeover of the food processing giant Alfa- Laval led to the creation of the present group in January 1993. The Tetra Laval group now includes Tetra Pak, Tetra Laval Food, Alfa Laval, and Alfa Laval Agri.

The company is controlled through a Liechtenstein foundation and a Dutch holding group, which means they are under no compulsion to publish accounts and makes it difficult to be clear about the extent of the family wealth.

Although Sainsbury and Tesco are switching from the Brik carton for milk in favour of other forms of packaging, new uses - such as laundry liquids - and new customers regularly emerge.

The invention was inspired by the Rausing grandmother's sausage-making activities, which impressed Ruben, their grandfather, by the way meat was squeezed into the skin and pinched at both ends.

The resulting invention, when applied to liquids, eliminated the need for refrigeration - a major step forward for 1952 when the first containers were produced.

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