London SW1P 2PL
Incorporated: March 31, 1864 as Silver’s India Rubber
Works & Telegraph Cable Company, Ltd.
Sales: £4.01 billion (US$5.895 billion)
Market value: £4.57 billion (US$6.72 billion)
Stock Index: London
BTR, or British Thermoplastics and Rubber, is a London-based conglomerate with substantial worldwide interests, particularly in the United States. The company is involved in the manufacture of a variety of plastic and rubber products, including conveyor belts, artificial limbs, underwater cables, and plastic components in industrial machinery. Over the years, BTR has diversified into construction, engineering, and industrial and consumer manufacturing.
BTR has its origin with Arrowsmith & Silver, a colonial merchant of clothing and other provisions, established in London in 1798. At some point prior to 1823, the company came under the control of Stephen W. Silver, and the company’s name was changed to Silver & Company. That year Silver established a waterproof rubber clothing factory in Greenwich as an extension of his enterprise. The factory was moved in 1852 to a part of West Ham which later became known as Silvertown.
By 1862 Silver & Company was involved in the manufacture of various Indian rubber and ebonite products, including insulated telegraph wire. Silver purchased a rubber making facility at Persan-Beaumont from the Franco-American Company in 1864 and incorporated his company as Silver’s India Rubber Works & Telegraph Cable Company. The enterprise was subsequently renamed the India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company when it entered the field of gutta percha production (gutta percha is a rubber-like substance with a high resin content, and was especially useful for underwater cables and in dentistry). A separate gutta percha factory was established at Silvertown, and Walter Hancock, who was experienced in its production, was placed in charge of the plant in 1864. In December of that year Hancock’s independent Gutta Percha Company and West Ham Gutta Percha Company were merged with Silver’s operations.
Beginning in 1868, India Rubber experienced a strong increase in demand for its products, especially underwater cables for transoceanic telegraph lines. The company acquired many of its own cable-laying ships, and participated in the establishment of a number of international communications companies, including the Direct Spanish Telegraph Company (1872), West Coast of America Telegraph (1876), and the South American Cable Company (1891). By 1892 the company controlled communications offices across the British Isles.
India Rubber entered the sports and leisure industry in 1888 when it introduced golf balls made of gutta percha. The following year India Rubber began to engineer electrical systems for municipalities in Britain. In 1895 the company took managerial control of Palmer Tyre Ltd., a manufacturer of rubber tires for bicycles and carriages; the company was later acquired and consolidated into India Rubber in 1901. In 1906 the company helped to establish Jointless Rim Ltd., a manufacturer of jointless steel wheel rims at the Arrol works in Birmingham. India Rubber established another operation at Persan in 1909 to produce rubber automobile tires, for which demand had grown in proportion to the rising popularity of automobiles.
Demand for insulated cable waned after 1918, and India Rubber reduced its production volume and closed the Arrol plant. Two years later the company withdrew from the electrical systems business. Strong demand for tires and other rubber products caused an expansion of the Silvertown facility, which covered 16.5 acres in 1923, and sales offices were established in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Argentina, in addition to several major British cities.
India Rubber was significantly affected by the establishment in 1924 of the British Goodrich Tyre Company, a subsidiary of the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio. From its headquarters in Leyland, British Goodrich purchased several local companies involved in the production of bearings, rubber tires and hoses, golf balls, and other rubber products. In 1933 British Goodrich acquired a controlling interest in the Silvertown Rubber Company, the principal subsidiary of India Rubber.
British Goodrich relinquished its control over the Silver-town facility in 1934, which subsequently changed its name to the British Tyre and Rubber Company, or BTR. Shortly afterwards, BTR acquired the Danish subsidiary of B.F. Goodrich, and in 1935 gained control of James Lyne Hancock Ltd., Britain’s oldest rubber company.
In 1936 BTR acquired a production license from an American company called Stowe Woodward which permitted it to produce “Stonite” printing rollers. In 1937 BTR gained production rights from Bell’s Asbestos and Engineering to manufacture “Bestobell” machine belting and “High Test” friction surface belting. Also that year BTR discontinued electric cable and wire production. A.G. Spalding & Brothers, widely known for its golf balls and sports equipment, was acquired by BTR in 1938.
Shortly after World War II began, in 1940 the Silver-town plant was severely damaged by German bombings. Silvertown was a primary German target because its Palmer Tyre group manufactured a number of products for British warplanes. Another factory, located on Penfold Street in London, was requisitioned so that Palmer could immediately resume production. BTR headquarters was moved to Vincent Square in London. Also in 1940, BTR installed production facilities at Leyland for high pressure reinforced hydraulic hose.
BTR produced a wide variety of products for the allied war effort, and contributed significantly to the victory in 1945. After the war, however, Britain remained in an economic crisis which had a deleterious effect on British industry. BTR gained some relief from these conditions when its new polyvinyl chloride products division experienced strong demand for fire-resistant PVC conveyor belts, which were required by new safety regulations instituted by the National Coal Board.
BTR stopped manufacturing tires in 1956 due to falling demand and low profitability. In order to retain the BTR name, the company conveniently changed its name to British Thermoplastics and Rubber. From 1956 to 1959 BTR acquired companies involved in the production of hoses, polyurethane insulating foam, and packaging materials.
During the early 1960’s BTR reorganized its managerial structure and sales operations. Six new operating divisions were created: belting; linings and coverings; general mechanicals; aero products; industrial hose and assemblies; and plastics. Also during this period, Spalding & Brothers was sold, and the J.E. Baxter Company, a manufacturer of industrial respirators, was acquired.
In 1964 BTR closed the Silvertown plant, redistributing its operations to other BTR facilities. BTR expanded its paper manufacturing venture with Stowe Woodward, and also formed a new joint venture company called Bristol-BTR, which produced reinforced plastic aircraft parts.
BTR announced a new corporate identity program in 1965. Under the direction of Chairman Sir David Nicolson and Managing Director Owen Green, BTR started to purchase “niche” businesses, those with a large share of a specialized market or a well-defined position in a large market. Sir David and Green practiced a margin-oriented management style, or a “high profit margin maintained on the back of substantial capital spending and high product quality.”
By the mid-1970’s BTR acquired companies based in Switzerland, Holland, Australia, and West Germany. BTR offices were also established in Sweden, France, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, and the United States. Major domestic acquisitions included the Leyland and Birmingham Rubber Company and Miles Redfern, a manufacturer of rubber automobile parts.
BTR became involved in the recovery of oil and gas from the North Sea fields when it helped to establish an equipment manufacturer called Williams Brother Offshore, Ltd., in collaboration with the U.S. Filter Corporation. BTR also purchased its long time American affiliate Stowe Woodward. Between 1970 and 1976 BTR’s earnings went from £1.35 million to £11 million, over an eight-fold increase, in nominal terms.
In the later 1970’s and early 1980’s BTR purchased several larger companies, including the Allied Polymer Group in 1978, which manufactured air/sea survival equipment, hoses, surface treatment equipment, and other plastic products. In 1980 BTR acquired the Huyck Corporation, an international manufacturer of finishing products for printing. The Serck Group, which specialized in electronic engineering for instruments and control systems, was acquired by BTR in 1981.
BTR was re-registered as a public limited company on January 4,1982, and became ultimately responsible for the management and operations of all BTR subsidiaries.
The company’s largest and most important acquisition came after three years of study by BTR management. Thomas Tilling Pic was acquired in 1983 for £637 million. The Tilling group included Tilcon (a quarrying company), Grahams Builders Merchants, Newey and Eyre (electrical wholesalers), Rest Assured (furniture), Intermed (health care), Cornhill Insurance (later divested), Yokes (filters), and Pretty Polly (hosiery). The acquisition of Tilling increased BTR’s asset valuation from about £500 million in 1983 to almost £1.4 billion a year later. At the time it was the largest takeover in British industrial history.
Opponents of the merger claimed that with the exception of the electronics division, Tilling’s operations had nothing in common with those of BTR. These claims were refuted by BTR management which maintained that the company would not consider any acquisition unless its operations offered “contiguity with an existing group company in either manufacturing, technology, or marketing.”
BTR gained control over the Nylex Corporation of Australia in 1984, and Dunlop Holdings, a sports and leisure equipment manufacturer, in 1985. Dunlop Tire (USA) was subsequently sold to its management for $203 million as part of a restructuring program initiated by Dunlop chairman Sir Michael Edwardes. A controversial £1.2 billion bid for Pilkington Brothers failed in 1986, but did not appear to detract from BTR’s increasing profitability. In addition, Owen Green (since created Sir Owen), assumed the chairmanship of BTR when Sir David Nicolson returned to the board as a regular member.
The company’s operations are currently divided into eight divisions: Transportation; Paper and Publishing; Health Care; Consumer; Financial Services; Construction; Energy and Electrical; and Industrial. BTR owns over 600 companies worldwide, and derives most of its operating income from electrical products and construction.
(Construction): Graham Building Services Co.; U.S. Supply, Inc.; Pascon Co.; Pilkington’s Tiles Co.; Tilcon Co.; (Energy and Electrical): ADS Anker Co.; Audco; Summers Electric Group; Charlton-Leslie Co.; Dunlop Oil & Marine; Facile Technologies, Ltd.; Maloney Co.; Serck Co.; Worcester Controls UK, Ltd.; (Industrial): BTR Industrial Products Co.; BTR Silvertown Co.; Clarkson Group; DCE; Yokes, Ltd.; Dunlop Hose; Dunlop Ho-Flex Co.; Leyland & Birmingham Co.; Lonstroff-BTR Co.; Peter-BTR Co. (91%); Sarmcol; Hansen Transmissions, Ltd.; Gascoigne Group; Hansen Transmissions, Ltd.; Yacu-Blast Co.; Apex Belting, Ltd.; (Consumer): Dunlop Aerospace; BTR Kennon, Ltd.; Fatati, Ltd.; Dunlop Automotive; Dunlop Metalastik; Empire Rubber Co.; Hertfordshire-BTR Co.; Rubber & Wheel/Lesteel Co.; International Radiator Services (70%); BTR Permali Co.; Russell Plastics; Dunlop-Beaufort; Dunlop Overseas; Dunlop South Africa (51%); (Health Care): MedVent MedDent; MDH, Ltd.; Bear Medical Systems, Ltd.; Nunc, Ltd.; Hanger Co.; Vessa, Ltd.; Viennatone; (Paper and Printing): Huyck Corp.; Stowe Woodward Co.; Cow Proofings Co.; Dunlop Graphic Products; (other): Shanshin Enterprises (70%); Dunlopillo; Dunlop A.G.; Rest Assured, Ltd.; Pretty Polly, Ltd.; Nylex; Dunlop Slazenger; (Holding and related): BTR, Inc.; BTR Industries; BTR Finance B.V.; BTR Nylex (62%); BTR South Africa (61%); Dunlop Holdings; Thomas Tilling; Audco India (50%); Bestobell, Pic. (24%); Dunlop Nigerian Industries, Ltd. (37%); Harper Gilfillan (50%); Octopus Publishing Group, Plc.