Rail rolling stock company Eversholt accepted a pounds 726.5
million takeover bid from HSBC leasing arm Forward Trust only a year
after the government sold the company to a group of managers and
institutions for only pounds 516 million.
With Eversholt managing director Andrew Jukes making pounds 15.9 million
from the deal, after investing pounds 110,000, and 65 staff members
sharing pounds 15 million between them, the deal looked likely to spark
political furore amid accusations of gross fat cattery when it was
announced on 19 February.
Sandy Anderson, the managing director of a similar company - Porterbrook
- had been personally vilified and labelled a fat cat only months before
after he made pounds 33 million selling his former rail company to
To compress expected high-profile press coverage into two days, minimise
accusations of fat cattery and prevent calls for windfall tax on
Eversholt’s directors’ gains and reduce invasion of privacy of
employees, directors and partners.
Focus opted to be open about each party’s gains, releasing detailed
breakdowns of the figures and circumstances of each stage of the deal.
These were issued to all sectors of the press and newswires the morning
the deal was announced. This was the outcome of meticulous planning,
which had seen everyone involved, including Prime Minister John Major,
thoroughly briefed beforehand.
Business reporters found it easy to obtain interviews with the major
winner in the deal - Jukes - whose Focus-prepared personal details
revealed him as a modest, Volvo-driving, ordinary sort of chap whose
plan for his pounds 15 million was to buy his daughter a bassoon. A
British Rail employee for 25 years, he was portrayed as a rail expert
who had taken a huge risk - and won.
But Focus separated directors from the controversial political
implications of the story by denying home news journalists access to
them. Any questions over the politics of rail sell-offs were referred to
In press briefings Focus stressed that Jukes made his original
investment when few companies thought the Government’s sales terms for
Eversholt were a good deal. Journalists learned that if Eversholt’s
share price had slipped at all, Jukes’ investment would have been wiped
out. He gained because he backed his own expertise and was lucky.
Press coverage focused on individual gains in some detail - in one case
even listing how much an investment trust for Jukes’ children would
Journalists reported Labour’s fat cat accusations over the deal but
failed to draw the directors themselves - or any of the venture
capitalists who made large gains - into the political debate.
With no interviews, radio coverage died and Focus flatly refused a BBC 2
Newsnight request to interview Jukes. In the absence of any directors, a
Labour-ran ’fat cats’ conference forced journalists to simply question
its own claims in order to present both sides. Carefully crafted quotes
from Jukes about how he had never planned to be wealthy portrayed him as
an ordinary guy who got lucky.
Careful planning was the key to the story’s success - answerphones,
briefings in secret locations and even hidden entrances to Eversholt’s
premises played a part in keeping the press away from staff. Appearing
to be open while avoiding sensitive questions through detailed
effectively de-clawed the press. Withholding co-operation from certain
parts of the media is a high-risk approach which can sometimes backfire,
but with careful handling it paid off.
Client: Eversholt Leasing
PR Team: Focus Communications
Campaign: The sale of Eversholt Leasing to the Forward Trust
Timescale: February 1997
Estimated cost: pounds 40,000 on a time-charge basis