Toad poised for make-or-break bids

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Chris Evans, the millionaire entrepreneur, is poised to pull off a string of deals at Toad, his struggling car technology group. But, as Sameena Ahmad reports, if the expansion strategy fails, he might have to turn his back on the City and take his company private.

Toad, founded by irrepressible microbiologist-turned-tycoon Chris Evans, is about to announce three acquisitions which could turn the car security company into one of the largest in Europe.

Sources say Toad is poised to buy Sextons, one of the UK's biggest remaining private car security groups with turnover of around pounds 20m and annual profits of some pounds 2m, and Stoploc, which makes steering wheel clamps.

The combined price tag would be around pounds 15m. Both deals could be announced before Christmas.

Toad, which this month turned profitable for the first time, is also believed to be exploring the possibility of buying a big windscreen manufacturer and repairer.

The two biggest are Autowindscreens, a pounds 70m company belonging to Heywood Williams, the quoted building materials group, and the bigger Autoglass, a subsidiary of South African Breweries. Industry sources suggest Toad is stalking the Heywood Williams division.

Toad is believed to be considering raising new funds from the market for the acquisitions but is understood to have enough backing from private sources, including Bill Gates of Microsoft.

Toad is capitalised at just pounds 6m after its share price collapsed in 12 months from a 118p high. The shares fell by one-third in February after Charles Parker, the chief executive, walked out after only 27 days in the job over "irreconcilable differences of management style".

Three more Toad directors were told to go between March and June after Kevin Gray, Toad's new chief executive, embarked on a round of cost-cutting. If the share price continues to founder, Dr Evans will consider taking the company private.

Dr Evans founded and floated a string of companies, including biotechnology specialists Chiroscience and Celsis. He is now chairman of Toad.

In a high-profile deal in May, Dr Evans gave the broadcaster Noel Edmonds' Unique group 500,000 Toad shares from his personal holding in return for publicity. Mr Edmonds has an earnout with Toad worth another 1 million shares in the next two years if the price, currently just over 20p, reaches 240p and Toad's name achieves 30 per cent public recognition.