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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Lord Hanson: King of the corporate raiders
Lord Hanson
In his heyday: The UK's most notorious corporate raider
Lord Hanson has made front page news this week with his outburst against government spinning on the euro currency.

As the UK's most high-profile corporate raider, he has been making headlines for many years.

He spent 30 years building Hanson plc into a huge conglomerate, before deciding in 1996 to split it into four companies when the unwieldy giant fell out of favour with investors.

Since his retirement from Hanson in 1997, the man who once wooed Audrey Hepburn has remained in the media spotlight, largely because his corporate exploits captured the media imagination.

Sleepless nights

Born in Huddersfield in 1922, James Hanson joined a family which had been in business since the early 19th Century. The family road haulage firm was eventually nationalised in 1948.

With his brother Bill, he launched a transport business in Canada and later formed Jet Petroleum. This was sold to Conoco in the 1950s for 12.5m.

He set up Hanson the company in 1964 with his close friend and ally Lord Gordon White.
Gordon White
Hanson went into business with Gordon White

In its heyday, the 11bn corporate kept directors of underperforming UK and US companies awake at night.

Over 30 years, the company went on an acquisition spree, which saw its business grow to cover everything from bricks to batteries.

It engaged in one of the most vicious takeover battles ever against Imperial Tobacco in 1986.

This and the takeover of US company SCM were two of its greatest acquisitions.

Some say the turning point was its failed attempt to take over ICI chemicals, which tarnished Lord Hanson's stock market reputation.

During all the years of doing battle, Hanson plc became an unwieldy giant, earning Lord Hanson the reputation as a ruthless corporate raider and a pioneer of the UK conglomerate.

End of an era

In 1996, when Hanson announced its plan to split into four companies, it was hailed as the end of an era characterised by Thatcherite excess.

The company was split into four: Energy Group, Millennium Chemicals, Imperial Tobacco and Hanson plc.

Hanson is now a building materials group, which employs just under 30,000 people across the world.

In interviews since the split, Lord Hanson has said that the day of the conglomerate will return.

"Conglomerates will come back. What goes around comes around. If the right opportunity arose, I am sure I could pull together a group of people because it is still the same old game", he said.

Lord Hanson also enjoyed a reputation as a playboy, briefly engaged to Audrey Hepburn as well as a one-time partner of Joan Collins.

He married US divorcee Geraldine Kaelin in 1959.

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See also:

08 Mar 00 | Business
Shake-up for UK share index
25 Feb 99 | The Company File
Hanson builds up profits
05 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Hanson: I will not be gagged
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