Another "Billionaire" Scotsmen.....
He's an interesting character not least because he's turned round companies from massive loss making to massive profit. He owns Sale Sharks Ruby and is a Jehova's Witness! Here's an article on him.
Michael Taylor finds out why Brian Kennedy continues to build his home improvement empire and what it feels like to taste sporting success
Brian Kennedy doesn't need to work. He's amassed a £3250m fortune, owns houses, planes, boats, even a title-winning rugby team. But here he is, launching a £360m takeover bid for the ailing conservatories business Ultraframe to bolster his home improvement businesses.
But before we get to the detail of the deal, here's the question for BK - as colleagues call him - and he gets asked it all the time. By his family, his friends and no doubt by many successful people who have made less money than he has and yet have chosen a life of retirement and leisure. Why do you do it?
"I play the game; it's like playing rugby. You want to play, so you want to win. So when the opportunity comes up then I make the moves for the good of the business. I don't want to be on the touchline," he says.
"I did semi-retire; I lived in Majorca. It drove my kids nuts and it drove me nuts. I would travel, I would see seriously monied people in these executive lounges and exclusive hotels and they all had one thing in common: they looked miserable, absolutely bloody miserable. They look for the next big high, the next big stimulus. But what they are trying to replace is what all of us want and need: a job.
"I need a job, I need this. Otherwise I'd get bored stiff."
So that answers the question about his motivation as well as anyone could have hoped. Some whisperers throw in the anecdote that he's a Jehovah's Witness, as if that would draw a streak of eccentricity across his character. The truth is he is driven by a faith in God, and was indeed raised in that religion, but he's not a strict adherent and is driven by the same gods as many entrepreneurs.
And so for a serial deal-doer and sports nut like Kennedy he couldn't be happier right now. His rugby team, Sale Sharks, are the champions of rugby's Zurich Premiership. The sun is shining on Cheshire, where he lives, and he's in the midst of shoring up his bid for Ultraframe, a business desperately in need of a turnaround job. Conservatories has proved a tough market for the Clitheroe-based company and it has lost £335m in the first six months of this year. Yet here was a business that was valued at more than £3600m less than six years ago but has lost money for the past two years as, supposedly, spending on big-ticket home improvements has dived.
But first of all there's a deal to be done. As we spoke the negotiations were at a delicate stage. There was still a private equity player sniffing around, but when it saw the interim figures it called it a day. But for a man with a frighteningly firm handshake and an imposing presence you also know for certain Kennedy won't be screwed around by anyone.
He'd had firm commitments from the board for his 30p a share offer and from 40 per cent of shareholders. But while shares have traded at a price slightly higher than he's offering, there's always the possibility of a hedge fund sniffing around looking to block his path. In this case it was Mellon HBV Alternative Strategies - building on its 11 per cent stake and attempting to construct a deal that can extract a higher price from Kennedy's Latium Group or tempt the other shareholders by underwriting a rights issue and refinancing.
Kennedy is ably partnered in these negotiations by Stuart Lees, well known in these parts as a deal junkie from his time as a head of corporate finance with Arthur Andersen. As the chief executive of Latium Plastics, one of the parts of the home improvement business owned by Kennedy, he's one of a number of lieutenants to whom Kennedy is fiercely loyal - through good times and bad - and who he intends to help become wealthy as well as wise.
And like the other chapters in Kennedy's tale you can always expect the unexpected.
He's spent a life in the home improvement business. After ditching early plans to be a civil engineer, he began selling kitchens at Farouche Cuisines, which was sold in 1988 netting him £31m.
He went into double glazing but his first venture went into liquidation in 1992. Learning from that he bought Weatherseal Holdings from the receiver for £350,000 and has never looked back. Everest, one of the top names in double glazing, was sold by Kennedy in 2003 to a management buyout team in a £363m deal, three years after he had bought it for £347m. His other home improvement companies include Weatherseal Windows and Space Kitchens & Bedrooms.
He is happy to integrate the businesses horizontally, expand into Europe and believes that Wenland and Ultraframe will fit well together.
But he's been diversifying his interests of late. A chance conversation in Knutsford Wine Bar led him to apply for a phone licence and he built Genesis, a telecommunications business, selling his mobile phones business to Dixons for £331m.
The constant in all of this is capacity to build and invest in businesses and, as he is fond of saying, he's in it to win. He now has an empire that spans 13 companies with a combined turnover of £3600m. He runs each one as a separate entity, not as a group with calls on working capital. "It makes the chief executives impotent," he says with typical steel. "Really we're hands-on investors, rather than operators. That's how we can afford to run businesses that span retail to manufacturing and direct sales. It doesn't matter what the market is, but I do have the know-how to motivate.
"Stuart Lees has a bright mind and has a capable mind but he's also having to learn the new role and understand how to run a business day to day. How to make 25 decisions a day and get 20 of them correct.
"We saw the same thing in rugby, we look at the business and make it happen. But you have to get the right chief executive. In all the businesses I've been involved in we will turn things round if we work with the chief executive, direct them and make them better.
"Businesses fail because of a lack of control, decisions aren't made and management neglect the minutiae."
At this point in our conversation he speaks candidly, openly and directly to Niels de Vos, the chief executive of Sale Sharks, who is also present. "Niels was a three out of ten when he started, now he's a seven," he says.
That assessment may be helped by the fact that Sale Sharks are the Zurich Premiership champions, but both Kennedy and de Vos maintain that progress off the pitch has been noticeable. "We're not in sport to make money, but we are in sport to give us something exciting for the community and that doesn't require a benefactor," says Kennedy. "It's got to be financially self-sustaining. Now it will pay its own way on a day-to-day basis and pay down some of the debt. If it grows successfully then there could be something we can be very proud of."
It's been a hard slog that has cost Kennedy £330m, not least because the experiment of combining a top-flight rugby club with a declining football club, Stockport County, was a disaster. County have plummeted through the divisions since it was bought by Kennedy's company Cheshire Sport. Now he has secured the Edgely Park stadium for the Sharks, sold the club to the fans and they pay rent to stay at the ground.
"It was a great plan and it didn't work. We didn't think through the consequences of Stockport County failing on the field. We thought we'd sprinkle a bit of stardust and things would just work. It didn't and they then continued on a downward spiral," Kennedy reflects.
But the Sharks have gone from strength to strength. Aside from the silverware, the club is just about profitable on turnover of £38.7m, with rising player salaries and medical bills accounting for the biggest costs.
The short-term plan is to develop Edgely Park and hope that attendances can creep up to the 15,000 mark, which would put Sharks closer to pacesetting rival Leicester's 16,500.
But de Vos has even greater ambitions to move the club to Manchester, indeed they would have played the prestigious European Cup semi-final at the City of Manchester stadium had they got through. "I could see a future for Sale Sharks being based at Sport City. The endgame is for a state-of-the-art facility with 20,000 people cheering on the national champions. The people will come if we build it," he says.
And Kennedy, looking at his prodigy, nods in agreement.