Sir James Goldsmith’s career began in the 1950s as a very young entrepreneur running a tiny pharmaceutical firm. He went on to become the third largest food seller in the world by the end of the 1970s.
After liquidating many of his assets, he then became one of the most powerful financiers and greatest investors of the 20th century, before turning his focus to politics, the environment and humanitarian issues in the 1990s.
His business interests spanned four main areas:
1953 – 1963: After taking over his brother Teddy’s pharmaceutical business, Sir James set up his own manufacturing company and expanded quickly, making extraordinary innovations such as the introduction of generic drugs to the European market – at the age of only twenty-three. Other ventures followed including Ward Casson, Mothercare, and the slimming product Milical.
1964 – 1979: Sir James established Cavenham Foods in 1965 as a holding company for the number of small businesses he was starting to acquire. His food empire grew quickly, spanning both manufacturing and retail, and including confectionary, tobacco and newsagency chains. It was during this time Sir James developed some of his core business beliefs around decentralisation of control, and the strategy that would soon make him one of the biggest forces in the food world:
‘Taking over badly-managed or loss-making companies is necessarily a poor man’s way of building a big group. By the time Cavenham is ready to expand further in the food industry, it will no longer be poor.’
Major food takeovers followed, including McColl, Bovril, Moore’s Stores, Wright’s Biscuits and Allied Suppliers, and Sir James’s first major acquisition in the United States: the Grand Union supermarket chain in 1973.
1980 – 1990: Following the liquidation of his food assets in the United Kingdom and Europe, Sir James then moved into the next stage of his career, with a spate of major takeovers and investments:
New Strategies: Sir James was a dynamic and innovative investor with many interests. While moving away from food manufacturing and into retail, his other investments also included casinos (Aspinalls) and securities (Argyle) in the United Kingdom, an oil-exploration project in Guatemala, and projects in the film industry.
US & Major Takeovers: Sir James then turned to the United States, focusing mainly on forestry and packaging companies such as Diamond International, St Regis Corporation and Crown Zellerbach. These were some of the biggest deals of his career – and made him one of the brightest stars of the financial world in the 1980s. A range of takeover bids followed, including Goodyear Tyre and Rubber, in which Sir James proved to be a formidable opponent.
UK: Sir James moved back into the United Kingdom market, and partnered with Jacob Rothschild and Kerry Packer for a number of takeover bids including tobacco conglomerate BAT Industries – the largest takeover bid the UK had ever witnessed.
Company Structures: A complex structure of holding companies based in Europe, Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands were used to facilitate Sir James’s investments. These included Generale Occidentale, Anglo-Continental, and General Orient
1977 – 1987: Sir James also made a significant mark on the media world. Starting out as a newspaper proprietor, he invested in publications such as L’Express and then news television channels in France, and launched his own publication, Now! Magazine, in the United Kingdom.