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Tuesday, 24 March, 1998, 14:21 GMT
Millions for car park entrepreneurs
bomb site
From a humble start, Sir Donald Gosling and Ronald Hobson made an unbeatable team
The founders of the NCP car park empire have pocketed 580m after selling the business to an American company.

Ronald Hobson and Sir Donald Gosling, and their family trusts, owned 72.5% of the National Parking Corporation which has been sold to Cendant Corporation for 801m.

The UK group includes car park operator NCP and roadside breakdown service Green Flag.

The deal comes just three months after National Parking Corporation postponed plans for a stock market flotation and announced it was considering turning Green Flag into a separate company in its own right.

Gamble that paid off

Sir Donald and Ronald Hobson teamed up after investing 200 in a bombsite in central London in October 1948.

The two ex-servicemen went into partnership and bought the area in Red Lion Square, Holborn. They converted it into a car park, naming the business Central Car Parks.

Bomb site
A 200 bombsite grew into a business empire
At the time the business was considered a wild gamble since parking was unrestricted and the number of cars on the road was few.

However as post-war austerity receded, their operation took off. They expanded their company by buying National Car Parks, founded by Colonel Frederick Lucas in 1931, from his widow Anne Lucas in 1958.

The deal created Europe's largest car parking organisation.

Robert Peto of DTZ property consultants said: "It was an amazing success story."

National Parking Corporation was formed in 1986 as the holding company for NCP and its subsidiaries.

It has since expanded into other areas such as vehicle breakdown, recovery and airport bus services.

Spying controversy

In the early 1990s NCP was at the centre of controversy. It was accused of planting spies in rival group Europarks, which was threatening to undermine NCP by winning contracts from major customers.

Britain's biggest industrial espionage trial ended with the acquittal of the then NCP chief executive Gordon Layton and an estimated 4 million bill for the investigation.

By 1994 NCP was the target of a takeover bid by a consortium of venture capital investors, lead by UK insurance giant Prudential. But the 530m deal fell through.

Dynamic duo

Sir Donald Gosling
Sir Donald: flamboyant
Sir Donald and Ronald Hobson will be remembered as two of the most successful business buccaneers in British corporate history.

Sir Donald is the more flamboyant of the two men. He has made the headlines for his political and charitable work and gestures such as an attempt in 1994 to finance a new Royal Yacht.

Like Sir James Goldsmith, he was knighted in former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson's 1976 resignation honours list.

He owns one of the most luxurious motor yachts in the world, the 245 ft Leander. He was a close friend of the former Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher and reputedly donated 200,000 to the Thatcher Charitable Trust in 1991.

Mr Hobson is more private and intensely dislikes publicity for himself and his company.

He is said to have turned down a knighthood when he was offered one at the same time as his partner.

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