Mission to invest in firms that can revive the North

Sir George Buckley
Sir George Buckley
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AS a child blighted by poverty, Sir George Buckley once played among the bombed out houses of his native Sheffield.

Today, as the new chairman of private equity firm Arle Capital Partners, he plans to invest in companies that could stimulate growth in the north of England during a time of austerity.

Sir George, who has just retired as chief executive of 3M, one of America’s largest manufacturers, said he wanted to challenge the idea that private equity was a form of “lemon juice press”.

Sir George said private equity was all about making long-term investments.

He added: “I come from an environment which is about innovation and growth and the creation of new value.”

Arle already has two investments in the north of England – Expro, an oil services firm which has a base in Ulverston, Cumbria, and packaging firm Innovia Films, which has an operation in Wigton, Cumbria. Although there are no specific plans for investments in Yorkshire companies, Sir George stressed that nothing was off the table.

He added: “I am very proud of my Yorkshire roots. I have received help from a lot of good people along the way.”

Sir George, who celebrated his 65th birthday last month, will join Arle on June 1, after working since 2005 as chairman, president and chief executive of 3M, the US manufacturer which is probably best known for Post-It Notes and Scotch Gard.

He said: “I would have happily stayed on, but the mandatory retirement age is 65. It was really sad. There was strong lobbying by investors for me to stay on.”

Before joining 3M, Sir George was chairman and chief executive of Brunswick Corporation in the US, which is the biggest recreational boat manufacturer in the world. As chairman of Arle, Sir George will join senior industrialists on Arle’s operational review board which meets quarterly to assess the performance and strategies of the firm’s 12 portfolio companies.

Arle is a private equity partnership formed in April 2011 following a buyout of Candover Partners.

Arle focuses on businesses in the energy, industrial and services, sectors which are usually based around the North Sea rim. John Arney, the managing partner of Arle, said: “Sir George’s imminent arrival marks an important step forward for Arle as we finalise the composition of our team.

“I had the pleasure of working with Sir George on the board of Thule (the sports utility transportation company) between 2004 and 2007 and know him to be both a savvy allocator of capital and a highly experienced and innovative industrialist.”

Sir George said: “John had a view very similar to mine. It was a big eye-opener for me to work with John and to see him behave in a way very similar to me – investing in the future...It’s not only current results you are selling but prospects for the future.”

Sir George faced many challenges during his childhood. He had a limp, and suffered from chronic bronchitis and pernicious anaemia.

He recalled: “I was a pretty sickly child and left school at the age of 15. It was tough in those days, people did what they had to do. There was no welfare state. If you didn’t work you didn’t eat.

“I had a seed planted in my mind by my grandmother.”

His grandmother predicted that the young George would grow up to become an electrical engineer.

He became an apprentice at building services firm NG Bailey – “a wonderful company that treated me well” – but knew he had to further his education.

“I went to Huddersfield Polytechnic, but I wasn’t sure I could hack it,’’ he said. “I think that when you come from a very poor family, you have an inferiority complex for many years. That’s one of the things that drives me on.”

Sir George said he would have the role of “senior mentor” in his role as chairman of the partnership at Arle. He added: “We will be working with the team here to try and help source new deals, and perhaps have a perspective on some industries that might not necessarily exist here.”