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Year of great note for De La Rue
IT HAS been a productive year for the chief executive of the world's largest banknote printer De La Rue - and there are some exciting times ahead.
Tim Cobbold has certainly had to face some tough challenges since he took over the reins of the multi-million company back in January 2011.
Today, he heads a company that not only prints banknotes for 150 currencies, but produces a range of documents including travellers cheques, vouchers and even passports.
The security printer is also a leading provider of cash-sorting equipment and software solutions to central banks all over the world - and its global headquarters is here in Basingstoke.
With its offices in Viables and its paper mill in Overton, the company employs around 600 people in Basingstoke and Deane.
Tim arrived at time of great uncertainty - the company's share price had taken a dramatic turn for the worst and it looked like a real possibility that this venerable British company was about to be acquired in a hostile bid by French rival Oberthur Technologies.
Shares had fallen by a third after De La Rue admitted production irregularities at its Overton plant, and the potential loss of the Reserve Bank of India as a customer in July 2010, leading to the resignation of the then chief executive James Hussey.
But the 200-year-old company has bounced back, largely in part to the professionalism of De La Rue's employees, according to the earnest father of three.
“They have done a magnificent job, moving from a frankly very difficult situation to a much improved one,” said Tim.
“The job isn't finished yet but I think where we are is a tribute to all the people who work in company.”
The 49-year-old has over 20 years of international management experience in manufacturing industries. Prior to taking the helm at De La Rue, Tim worked for Southampton Airport-based secure power firm Chloride Group, first as chief operating officer and then chief executive.
Among the key challenges he faced at De La Rue was reinforcing, and strengthening, confidence, both among staff and investors. And this is something that has been resolutely achieved.
“Interestingly, though there was uncertainty about it at the time, our customers always retained their confidence in us,” said Tim.
Today, De La Rue shares are trading at levels close to where they were before the company was embroiled in the paper quality control issue. They had fallen to a low of 549.5p in November 2010 prior to Oberthur's bid, but are currently trading in the region of 926.00p. Tim instigated a three-year improvement plan to restore the profitability of the business, based on what he describes as four clear pillars - focusing truly on De La Rue customers and their needs; investing in innovation and new technologies; making the business as professional as it can be; and by being operationally excellent.
“Built on those four pillars are a series of actions,” said Tim.“Execute those well and we will deliver the improvement in operating performance that frankly our shareholders will look for.
“The share price has certainly responded and that is probably the most visible indicator of our shareholders' confidence of the people in De La Rue.
“In the end, they have to be confident that the people in De La Rue can deliver the potential of the business.
“And actually, I think most people in the company want to see a very strong and healthy profitable De La Rue because that gives them certainty for their futures as well.”
Inevitably, De La Rue's bosses have had to take a cool look at the company, and there has been some restructuring, cost-cutting and consolidation of sites.
Tim said: “There have been hard decisions and we've had to do difficult things and, in some areas, frankly unpleasant things for individuals,” said Tim. “But in the round, they are the right things for us to do as a business.”
The “difficult things” include the relocation of the De La Rue Holographics business, in Stroudley Road on the Daneshill Industrial Estate, to Westhoughton, near Bolton.
“We have been very open with the people who are most directly affected,” said Tim. “It is not a decision that was taken lightly. I am acutely aware for the people most directly affected it goes to the most important things in life - husbands, wives, family, houses, and fundamentally the future.”
Fortunately, the skills of a significant proportion of the people based at Stroudley Road will be retained by De La Rue as positions have been found for them at the Viables headquarters in Jays Close.
Looking ahead, Tim said there are some exciting plans for De La Rue's Overton plant.
“I think central to building and continuing the long-term future of De la Rue will be technology and innovation, and we will be investing a considerable sum of money in a new world-class technology centre that will be based at the Overton site.
“It will be state-of-the-art, it will absolutely be the best in the industry and it will give specifically our R&D and technical scientists - rocket scientists if you want - the right the facilities, and the right environment and the right equipment to really accelerate on the innovation of technologies in our industry.”
It is hoped that the facility will be in operation in 12 to 18 months, and Tim is very excited about this, putting behind him the site's previous production failure, which he describes as “simply unforgiveable.”
He puts the irregularity that happened down to pressure on the supply side of the business. And he has vowed that will not happen again.
“The business has come a long way from a year ago, but the job isn't finished,” said Tim.