Restructuring a family business for the third generation

Moore Barlow has many clients who are family businesses. From entrepreneurial investment vehicles, to landed estates and rural businesses, to thriving privately-owned software and manufacturing companies, we walk alongside our clients as they hand down their businesses through their generations, helping them to flourish, change, restructure and take advantage of opportunities, capital injections, tax and financial reliefs. We are also involved in supporting the families themselves as they create and manage their wealth and assets through the years.

One such family is the Allan family, owners of the Ian Allan group.

We have long been used to the expression 3G referring to telecommunication capacity, but it is also a term used within family businesses to refer to the handing on of assets down the family line. This is very much the case for the Ian Allan Group (IAGP), the holding company of a family business that spans three generations. Now solely owned and managed by two cousins and their siblings, IAGP was founded by Ian Allan, entrepreneur and railway enthusiast in the 1940s, after publishing the first guide to all Southern Railway trains. This publishing and printing company was the start of the business empire that encompassed a portfolio of businesses that at its biggest, generated around £55m turnover, with investments in the motor trade, travel and hotel industry, printing, publishing, property and organic fertilisers. Working closely with Barlow Robbins (now Moore Barlow) trusted advisers, the family business has today reinvented itself under its current family ownership, to take advantage of the changing landscape we live in and position itself as a truly 21st century business.

The family and the business

Current co-directors Nick and Ben Allan are cousins, best friends and very comfortable working together, citing complimentary skills and experience and often finishing each other’s sentences. It helps that they and their families are all very close and are extremely proud of their grandfather’s achievements and legacy. Having established the Ian Allan group using his knowledge and passion for steam trains, he was also an instinctive marketer, expanding his business interests by seeing opportunities that extended the core brand. This manifested itself into family values of fairness and personal service that has been handed down to Ian’s sons, Paul (Ben’s father) and David (Nick’s father) who took on the business and steered it through to the point at which they decided they wanted to retire. They were clear they wanted to hand the company over to Ben and Nick as Managing Directors with each of them and their siblings having equal shares in the business. Now this “3G” business is owned by all six of Ian’s grandchildren, where to this day they still have their Board meetings in the Pullman Car that Ian bought back in 1962, that has pride of place in the grounds of their HQ in Shepperton.

The imperative to restructure

Luckily Paul and David’s sons had always been interested in the family business, and their siblings were happy for Ben and Nick to become Managing Directors of the business. However there were a number of hurdles to be jumped before this could happen. It was obvious that parts of the business were no longer able to continue as they were. Having already divested the printing business in 2012 with Barlow Robbins’ support, the next target for divestment was Chase Organics which was sold in 2018. Then, described as “too big to be small but too small to be big”, in 2018 a conveniently timed offer was placed to buy Ian Allan Travel. With the sale completed in May 2019, they were then ready to look at a total business restructure and share ownership agreement, enabling the current second generation to hand the remaining 48% holding of the business to Ben, Nick and their siblings as joint shareholders. This protected a core tenet for the re-structure: to ensure that all business decisions would always be taken by the family.

A vision for the future

Nick and Ben have a shared vision to create a property company, using Tennay Properties Ltd as the main vehicle. They have retained Lewis Masonic, their specialist publishing business, and Ian Allan Motors which is the sole authorised trader of Chevrolet/Corvette and Cadillac in the UK. But they feel it is their property arm which offers real scope over the next decade as work place habits shift following the pandemic. Most of the Tennay Properties portfolio, put together over the years by the family and assisted by Barlow Robbins’ property team, comprises commercial offices in London and Surrey, conveniently located near Shepperton train station. These offer a proposition to SMEs who want to move out of London creating meeting space and office hubs. With a number of loyal tenants who were offered flexible leases and where needed, reduction in square footage to help them through Covid-19, they feel ready to modernise their brand and invest in a marketing strategy to attract more tenants as well as investing in more properties that match their ambitions to create “the Office of the Future”.

For more information about the Ian Allan Group (IAGP), read here.

Our family have had a long term relationship with Barlow Robbins, led by Graham Wilson who has been a trusted adviser and good friend to our fathers and to us. Whenever an issue cropped, we had Graham on speed dial and he would be able to advise or ensure someone in the firm could help us. The restructure that the team carried out for us has enabled us to take our family business forward in an ownership structure that really works for all of us.

Nick and Ben Allan