OBITUARY:Tony Clegg

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The Independent Online
Tony Clegg was a phenomenon of the Eighties who built his company, Mountleigh, into one of the stock market's star performers. He was a commodity trader with a difference, defying market norms by actively trading in a fundamentally illiquid product: property.

Though often referred to as a Yorkshireman, Clegg was born in Littleborough, Lancashire. He attributed his great business acumen to his mother, Cicely, who bought and ran a successful corner shop when her husband entered the Navy during the war. The young Clegg went to boarding school near Manchester but left at 16 to go into the family business. He was later called up for National Service, appropriately in the Pay Corps.

In 1961, Clegg entered the textiles industry via the modest route of employment with Broughton Bridge Mill Company. In 1968 this company was taken over by Mountain Mills, a worsted suiting company run by Ernest Hall. Hall, recognising Clegg's ability and drive, immediately asked him to become production and administration director of the group and the two set about building up the company through hard work and dogged determination. It came to the stock market in 1966 through the reverse takeover of another textiles company, Leigh Mills, under the new name of Mountleigh group.

The late Sixties and early Seventies witnessed a major decline in the British textile industries and it became apparent to Clegg and Hall that, for all their determined effort, Mountleigh would have to diversify if it was to have a future. Clegg later said "I did not choose property, property chose me"; but, whilst it is true that Mountleigh's initial property dealings were incidental to the core textiles business, Clegg was able to make the most of opportunities that presented themselves, through a natural ability to spot a deal. The very fact that he had no formal training in any professional property disciplines allowed him to fly in the face of established thinking. By 1976 Clegg was devoting one day a week to property.

Until 1981 Mountleigh was described in financial circles as a textiles company moving into property, but that was to prove a pivotal year, during which Clegg completed a now famous deal to acquire 800 houses leased to the US Air Force for pounds 5.25m. Many in the industry shunned this opportunity as the leases were due to expire within two years. Clegg overcame this "minor" problem by taking out an option at Lloyd's to insure against the possibility of the leases' not being renewed. Through this simple device, he was able to finance the acquisition where all others had tried and failed. In the event, the insurance was never required as Clegg persuaded the US authorities to renew for a further 10 years at a rent of pounds 2m per annum, a yield of 38 per cent per annum on his original costs.

By 1983 Mountleigh was a fully fledged property company and Ernest Hall resigned, leaving Clegg in sole charge as chairman and chief executive. For the remainder of the Eighties Clegg then set about transforming the group into the fastest-growing and most successful property trading company in Britain. Between 1982 and 1988 the company's market capitalisation rose from pounds 6m to pounds 372m, at one stage becoming the fourth largest property company in the country. Measured over a 12-year period from 1976 to 1987, the company's share price outperformed every other British quoted company.

Throughout the Eighties Clegg consummated a succession of breathtaking property company acquisitions, most notably of R. Hitchins & Co (pounds 28.4m), The Samuel Properties Portfolio (pounds 58m), United Real Property Trust (pounds 117m), Stockley plc (pounds 385m), Pension Fund Property Unit Trust (pounds 271m), Galenas Preciados (pounds 150m), Phoenix Properties & Finance (pounds 58m), plus vast numbers of individual and portfolio acquisitions. Every deal was different, each had a particular "angle" that could be capitalised upon, but each received the "Clegg treatment": rigorous analysis, innovative financing and very often a significant element of pre-selling to reduce risk. Certainly Mountleigh and Clegg were operating in a bull market for property throughout most of this period, but so were most of his competitors.

Throughout the Eighties Clegg worked around the clock and demanded similar commitment from his colleagues. He regularly ran two or more meetings simultaneously, moving from room to room, and rarely had fewer than two mobile telephones in his possession at a time when they were a novelty. Whilst naturally bluff by nature he was capable of great charm and pulled off many of his greatest business coups through wooing his opponent when necessary. He was a very considerable negotiator who had the great skill of convincing his adversaries to underestimate him. At one stage, he had become so adept at selling on acquisitions at significant profit over very short timescales that it became necessary for him to bid for new properties through obscure single-purpose subsidiaries in the hope that vendors would not spot the Mountleigh connection.

Throughout this period Clegg continued to pursue his non-business interests with vigour. He was a great family man, devoted to his wife, Dorothy, and three daughters. He was a supporter of the Conservative Party and a particular admirer of both Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. His charitable work was considerable, with involvement in the Prince's Youth Business Trust, Macmillan Nurses Appeal, the National Children's Orchestra, the Ripon Cathedral Appeal Fund, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and Leeds University. And he was appointed Chairman of the United Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust in 1990.

Clegg was first struck down by illness in 1988, and made a return to the helm of Mountleigh shortly thereafter, but in October 1989 finally bowed to the inevitable and sold his stake in Mountleigh to two American businessmen, Nelson Peltz and Peter May. Almost immediately afterwards the property market collapsed, and three years later the company went into receivership with debts of pounds 500m. In 1992 Clegg brought me in to help re-establish his small private property company E. & F. Securities: the ensuing period was sufficiently successful to elicit several overtures for a return to the quoted sector. Time and circumstances conspired against this however and sadly illness struck again two years later.

Nigel J. Wright

During 1988, following reported instances of failure of the National Cervical Cancer Screening Programme, Tony Clegg initiated a meeting with senior members of the British Society for Clinical Cytology involved in the programme, writes Dr Peter A. Trott.

I remember his direct business-like approach to this problem. He picked our brains to determine first, what was going wrong and secondly, what should be done about it. We told him that there were marked deficiencies in training and as a result he personally provided funds to "pump prime" a cytology training school in Leeds and offered to raise money through business colleagues to provide funds to establish a charity for research, training and the purchase of new equipment.

Thus, "Cansearch" was born, a charity which has distributed nearly pounds 1m to pathology research groups in Leeds, Nottingham, and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, among many others. After his initial involvement Clegg kept in close touch with the society, which elected him its first non- medical honorary member in 1993.

His election as the first chairman of the United Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in April 1990, one of the first wave of trusts established following the health service reorganisation. Under his leadership the trust pressed ahead in many areas, completing a pounds 10.7m renewal of Chapel Allerton Hospital in record time and starting work on a pounds 80m wing at Leeds General Infirmary.

Clegg took public service extremely seriously and made efforts to visit all areas of the hospital including the pathology laboratories where research funded through Cansearch was undertaken. He also assisted many other charities, including the Leeds General Infirmary Lifescan Appeal.

Ronald Anthony Clegg, businessman: born 8 April 1937; manager, Mountain Mills Co 1961-63, director 1963-66; director, Mountleigh 1966-72, joint managing director 1972-83, chairman and chief executive 1983-89; chairman, E & F Securities 1978-95; chairman, United Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust 1990-95; deputy chairman and trustee, Prince's Youth Business Trust 1990-95; married 1963 Dorothy Glaze (three daughters); died York 1 June 1995.

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