Boss creates 550 instant millionaires

IF THERE was an annual award for restoring the faith of Americans in their nation's innate goodness and generosity of spirit, it would go this year to Bob Thompson of the lakeside town of Belleville near Detroit.

A self-made man of the first order, Mr Thompson started a small asphalt company in his basement 40 years ago and managed to develop it into a multi-million- dollar road-building concern.

This summer, the Michigan businessman sold his Thompson-McCully operation to an Ireland-based company, CRH plc, for a total of $422m (pounds 270m) and told his 550 employees by letter.

The good news was in the first paragraph. They would not lose their jobs. The rest was even better - they would share $128m from the sale.

And Mr Thompson, in a plan carefully worked out with his wife, Ellen, made all his 80 senior managers millionaires overnight.

One of them, Russ Stafford, described how he and his wife opened his letter. "Russ," she told him. "I think the commas are in the wrong place." He half-expected the next caller at their house to be someone from a television lottery programme, but it all turned out to be true.

The Thompsons have given hourly paid workers $2,000 for each year of service, and salaried ones have received cheques or annuity certificates which they could cash when they reached 55 or 60 - in lieu of a pension.

Also among the beneficiaries were some of the retired staff and widows of employees. And just to gild the gingerbread, their former boss also paid the taxes they would owe on their windfall.

Mr Thompson said his gesture was a reward for hard work and loyalty. "People work exceedingly hard for us," he said. "It's a tough business and this is a demanding company."

He told reporters: "Some people make a lot of money on the stock market, but we're dependent on people, so it would just not be fair not to do it. They've allowed me to live the way I want to live."

But the Thompsons have hardly languished in luxury. They still live in the three-bedroom house they have occupied for 37 years.

Mrs Thompson still does the cooking and cleans the family house, and they do not have the trappings of wealth, unless you count a boat that Mr Thompson inherited from his father - a rowing boat.

And no, he has no plans for retiring retiring to spend the rest of the money - not right away at least. He is staying on to run the company for the new owners.