WOOD HALL TRUST PLC History
Telephone: (01) 283-0911
Sales: £812 million (US$1.193 billion)
Wood Hall Trust is a company in the process of disposing of its assets. A large and diversified company with interests in construction, shipping, and mercantile operations, Wood Hall Trust was acquired in 1982 by Elders IXL, the Australian conglomerate. Acquired for its more profitable enterprises, which have been merged into those of the new parent company, Wood Hall Trust is now systematically selling or closing down its remaining, less profitable operations.
Wood Hall Trust was formed in 1951 when the Ocean Salvage and Towage Company, a small and bankrupt maritime enterprise, was purchased by the Singer and Friedlander merchant banking company. As a condition of the sale, all five of the Ocean Salvage's directors were required to leave the company. They were replaced by a new board, with Michael Richards serving as chairman. Shortly after the sale, Richards and two other directors purchased 70% of the shares held by Singer and Friedlander and changed the company's name to Wood Hall Trust. The new company was intended to function as a trust for investments in the wine and spirits industries--the original operations in boat salvage and towing were abandoned altogether.
The new directors were highly astute investors. Within five years of taking control of the company, they had brought two important subsidiaries into the trust: the David Sandeman Group and Hart, Son and Company, merchant bankers. Drawing principally on the skills of Hart, the trust went on to acquire a variety of companies involved in construction, import/export trading, bill brokering, and advertising.
Speculative investment of this kind has often led to uncoordinated growth. The directors of Wood Hall Trust, however, closely monitored their investments and were ready immediately to dispose of any asset that failed to perform well. Although still small, Wood Hall Trust became, by the mid-1960's, one of the most successful investment houses in the City of London. Among the companies acquired by the trust during this period were Bendicks (a chocolate manufacturer) and Tilgate Pallets. Wood Hall Trust entered the construction industry in 1964 when it purchased Cableform, an electrical engineering concern, and Hornibrook, an Australian civil engineering contractor.
The trust's interests in construction were later expanded when they acquired Davis Estates and H. Fairweather and Company. Davis Estates was a major real estate development company involved in council and private housing projects throughout the United Kingdom. The Fairweather and Hornibrook groups were involved in a broader range of construction jobs--office and public buildings and civil engineering projects. Most notably, Hornibrook had a major role in the construction of the Sydney Opera House.
One of the Wood Hall Trust's most interesting acquisitions during the 1960's was that of the Paterson Simons Group (later called Paterson Newark). Paterson Simons was established in Singapore during the 1850's by a group of colonial merchants. One of the company's founders, William Ker, fostered a strong personal relationship with Temenggong of Johore, and by 1853 he had been placed in charge of the Malay ruler's finances. The relationship led to special business privileges for Ker and his partners, William Paterson and Henry Minchin Simons. The company traded in a variety of commodities, including camphor, vanilla, cinnamon, sea slugs, shark fins, tin, coffee, and pearls. Taking note of the profitable opium trade being conducted by companies such as Jardine Matheson, the partnership began shipping opium to China.
The partnership eventually adopted the name Patent Slip and Dock Company, but its name was changed to Paterson, Simons & Company in 1859, when Ker retired. The company re-established its port monopoly in Johore in 1899, following a merger with the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. Six years later the port operation was expropriated by the British government, but the company retained its interests in shipping and in maritime and property insurance and continued to act as agents for the East India Coal Company and for a number of shipping lines--and thereafter, despite its colorful past, continued to operate uneventfully until the time it was acquired by Wood Hall Trust.
The 1970's was a decade of stable growth for the Trust, particularly in Australia, where its mercantile and construction interests gained the attention of another investment trust, Elders IXL. Like Wood Hall Trust, Elders--and its constituent company Henry Jones IXL--had a long history. Initially involved in pastoral interests (fruit jam production, among other things), Elders was eventually acquired by a group of investors who transformed the company into a classic international financial conglomerate which launched often hostile takeovers of marginally performing and undervalued companies. Once acquired, these companies were either dismantled and sold for cash or other assets, or rehabilitated by Elders to be more competitive.
Elders made a hostile bid for Wood Hall Trust in 1982 and gained control of the company shortly after offering to pay £90 million for all outstanding shares. Unwilling to work with Elders after its raid, Michael Richards retired and was replaced by fellow board member Alastair Ennand. Ennand, however, retired soon after Richards, and a third man, Bob Stickens, was named chairman.
In the years that followed, Elders acquired a number of other large companies and reorganized its management structure. It was decided that Wood Hall Trust's operations would be sold or absorbed by other subsidiaries of Elders. This plan precipitated the retirement of Stickens and the absorption of other Wood Hall Trust board members into the Elders organization. Many of the Wood Hall Trust's mercantile interests have now been taken over by the Elders Agribusiness group, and its assets in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have been transferred to Elders International. The Wood Hall Trust building group, once the most prominent division of the company, is currently being "wound down," concluding or selling maintenance contracts and selling many of its real estate holdings.
It is possible that Wood Hall Trust will have ceased to exist by the mid-1990's.
Principal Subsidiaries: Wood Hall Building Group Ltd.; K.E. Millard & Co. Ltd.; One St. James's Ltd.; Vogan & Co. Ltd.; Osborne & Stevens Group Ltd.; A.J. Phillips Ltd.; Wood Hall Pty. (Australia); Paterson Ewart Group Ltd.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 1. St. James Press, 1988.