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British Industrial History

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Bowater Corporation

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of Bowater House, Knightsbridge, London

1947 Bowater's various paper and pulp interests were re-organized; a streamlined structure was instituted, in which a number of wholly-owned operating companies reported to a holding company which was given a new name, the Bowater Paper Corporation.

In the United Kingdom, the strategy of diversification away from newsprint continued through the late 1940s and early 1950s with further acquisitions of paper products firms.

In North America, the relentless rise in U.S. demand for newsprint led to the construction of a paper mill at Calhoun, Tennessee, marking the firm's debut as a producer in the United States.

By the beginning of the 1960s, it was plain that Bowater's strategy was flawed. Other competitors had made substantial investments in newsprint capacity and from 1957 the market was oversupplied, causing prices to weaken and profits to disappear.

Although the expansion programme was curtailed, the firm was already heavily burdened with debt and the advance into Europe continued to absorb capital. Matters were made worse by production problems at the new American Catawba pulp mill and by the move to prestigious new headquarters in London's Knightsbridge in 1958, which doubled per capita office costs.

1962 The death of Sir Eric Bowater in August, in the midst of the financial crisis marked the end of an era in the history of Bowater.

1962-72 Retrenchment was a hallmark of Bowater's strategy in this decade.

1971 Formation of Bowaters United Kingdom

1972 The name of Bowater Paper Corporation was changed to Bowater Corporation[1]

Over capacity in U.K. newsprint was tackled by the conversion of machines to other types of paper making, and eventually by closures, including Northfleet in 1973. Overall, the reduction in capacity in the United Kingdom and North America by 1972 totalled 300,000 tons. In Europe, where the business had never lived up to Bowater's expectations, there was wholesale retreat, culminating in the sale of the loss-making French company.

Diversification away from newsprint was the other side of the strategy, with successful expansion in areas of activity such as building products in the United Kingdom, and tissue production in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

1972 Acquired Ralli International

1973 Bowater Corporation bid for Hanson Trust, partly for tax reasons[2] but the bid was dropped when it was referred to the Monopolies Commission.

1973 Had acquired two companies making windows, which formed the basis for a joinery division; a new carpets division was established which together with the furniture division made a total of profit centres in the group[3]

1974 Acquired the cash shell Peter Dixon and Son[4]

1982 Bowater Corporation acquired Zenith Windows[5]

1982 Operating companies included:

1984 Demerger of the North American newsprint and pulp operations, as Bowater Inc.

The UK-based firm was renamed Bowater Industries plc after the de-merger. It became a business with five functionally organized operating groups:

  • Packaging and industrial products
  • Builders' merchants group
  • Building products group
  • Freight services group
  • Australian group.

In the UK, the manufacture of packaging was the leading activity, and the building products activities were mostly in the United Kingdom and Europe.

The strategy of the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s was to focus on activities in which the firm enjoyed managerial expertise and excellence.

1986 Tissue manufacturing became the firm's foremost activity in Australia, following the acquisition of Scott's 50 percent interest in Bowater-Scott of Australia in 1986, in return for the sale of Bowater's interest in Bowater-Scott in the UK to Scott Paper.

1987 Acquired Rexham Corporation, a manufacturer of plastic, paper and foil, based in North Carolina.

1989 Further consideration of Bowater's strategic direction led to the disposal of the freight group.

1990 £382 million takeover of Norton Opax PLC, whose strengths lay in the complementary fields of printing and publishing. The creation of the combined entity was marked by a new name - Bowater PLC.

1992 Bowater expanded in packaging by acquiring Cope Allman Packaging and DRG Packaging[6]

1993 Acquired SCI, manufacturer of coated films, and Tower Packaging, specialist in medical packaging, and a majority of MiTek[7]

1995 The Company changed its name to Rexam

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Companies House filing
  2. The Times, Jun 16, 1973
  3. 1973 Annual report
  4. The Times June 13, 1974
  5. The Times Apr. 8, 1982
  6. The Times, March 03, 1992
  7. The Times Mar. 23, 1994