Dollman in High Spirits at Menzies

Financial News, March 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Dollman in High Spirits at Menzies

Byline: Alice Hohler

John Menzies is an elusive beast. Not only is its name not pronounced as it seems, but it no longer does what many people still associate it with.For more than 150 years, John Menzies was known as a bookseller and newsagent, a familiar feature of UK high streets and particularly of ones in Scotland where John Menzies set up his first bookshop in 1833.

By 1935, John Menzies was known as a "bookseller, stationer and printseller". But five years ago, the company sold its newsagents to WH Smith and, in 2001, its Early Learning Centre chain of toy shops, to focus instead on newspaper and magazine distribution and its growing aviation services division.

The company's name is misleading, too. Menzies is pronounced "Mingies", which you could be excused for not realising unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool Scot, a support services (or long-serving retail) analyst or read the kind of etiquette guide that offers advice on unusual English pronunciations.

However, Menzies is a stable, well-regarded company, comfortably in the middle of the FTSE 350 index with investors who have supported its change of direction. It has also remained surprisingly resilient to the turbulent market around it.

Menzies' success, at least partly, is down to its management. A solid team inspires confidence in times of change, especially when that change feels like selling the family silver, and Scottish directors have a reputation for being tough and canny. However, over the past year, there has been change on this front too, as Menzies has replaced its top three executives.

William Thomson, who has been on Menzies' board since 1987, became chairman. Last October, Paul Dollman replaced Martyn Smith as group finance director when Smith was appointed financial director at Avis. In January, Patrick Macdonald joined to take over as chief executive officer from David Mackay, who retires in May after nearly 40 years at Menzies.

The financial community has welcomed these new appointments, not least because the uncertainties of succession and the drawn-out search for a new finance director have been resolved. But incoming management, though promising, is relatively unproven. Dollman has experience of listed and family-owned companies, as well as a solid track record in Scottish business life, but Menzies is his highest profile role to date.

Dollman has moved around a fair bit, professionally and geographically. Born in London, he moved to Scotland when he was 12, where he became "Scottified", and he speaks with a gentle Scots accent. Dollman is a keen golfer - the lecture programme for his applied maths degree at St Andrew's University fitted in with afternoons on the famous golf course - and he is also a keen student, prolonging his academic career for as long as possible before joining Price Waterhouse in Edinburgh.

After qualifying as an accountant, Dollman joined a Scottish family business - a recurring theme on his CV - where he spent a couple of years before moving back into accountancy, this time on the consulting side, with Coopers & Lybrand.

"It was a huge mistake. The profession had always been a means to an end for me, but they tried to persuade me that the consultancy side was different," he says. He used his consultancy experience to move back into industry and became involved in listing several smaller companies, including Inveresk, the Scotland-based paper company, which he joined weeks before its IPO.

"I was Floats R Us," he says. With three young children, Dollman was only too happy to escape from London and he has stayed north of the border ever since. After Inveresk, he became finance director of William Grant, the family-owned whisky group, and then finance director of Menzies, also based in Scotland.

When pointed out what looks like a five-year professional itch, Dollman looks a little sheepish and admits that the same headhunter has placed him in his last three jobs. …

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