Anecdote Index


The above logos are owned by the respective companies who in the 1970s were part of the Lyons group.




.....J. Lyons...in..the..Netherlands........(1975-1980). ...

(16) by Will Nijsse

Map of the Netherlands

My name is Will(y).J.Nijsse. I worked at Holding Company level for Lyons as Finance manager in the Netherlands during the period 1975 -1980. In this period Lyons lost its independence, which event was as emotional for the employees working outside the UK as it was for those in the UK itself..

This is what happened in the Netherlands .

In the beginning of the 1970's J.Lyons & Company Ltd went for Continental Europe on a bigger scale. Their biggest investments by far were made in the Netherlands .

On the map the places are shown where the Dutch Lyons companies had their activities as per December 31 1975., the letters with the numbers referring to the specific branches.

1. Homburg B.V. in Cuijk (A1) ,a pig slaughter house and meat product factory.

Also a factory in Wilp (A 2), a Pig breeding station 'Fomeva' in Meijel (A 3), Sales office in Kleve (Germany, A 4).

2.Beckers B.V. in Deurne ( B 1), number one snack producer in the Netherlands.Also factories in Essen (Belgium B 2), in Meijel (B 3) and in Helmond (B 4)

3.Hooimeijer B.V. in Barendrecht (C 1) , the Dutch bakery group: rusks, toast, honeycake,shortbread, all types of biscuits. To this group did also belong the A.H.O. factory in Goirle (C 2), the Haust factory in Amsterdam (C3) and the Bussink factory in Deventer (C 4)

4.Marina Kuchen G.m b.H. Two bakeries, one based in Dortmund,Germany, (D1) and one in Mettingen also in Germany ( D 2)

5.The Alpha hotel in Amsterdam (E) with just over 600 rooms was the biggest hotel in the Netherlands at that time.The hotel was part of the Strand Hotel group.

6.Hotel Commodore, also a Strand Hotel, situated at 12 Boulevard Haussmann in the middle of Paris, France.

7. J.Lyons Netherland Holdings BV. (JLNH),the Holding company for the meat interests and Lyons Bakkerijen Holdings B.V.(LBH) ,the Holding company for the bakery interest were moved from Amsterdam to our new office in The Hague ( F). Two new companies were founded at the end of 1975: Lyons Netherlands Management B.V. and LIF B.V., a finance vehicle that would start to operate from the Netherlands, because the Dutch Central Bank gave more freedom for currency transactions in those days than the Bank of England did..

Until the end of 1975 the Meat group was under the wings of John Gluckstein and Arthur Stocks dealt with the Bakery group, whilst Patrick Salmon devoted some of his time to the Alpha Hotel.

In the middle of 1975 the Board of J.Lyons & Company Ltd took the decision to start managing the overseas companies locally rather than from the UK.

A Lyons' Board member, Christopher R.L.Salmon (CRLS), moved to the Netherlands as MD for the new operation and he and his family settled in Scheveningen , an old fishing village that has become a suburb of the Hague .

At the same time Lyons asked a headhunter to find a Dutch national " ….to be based in the Netherlands within the Group's local Holding Company. He will provide planning, commercial, legal, accounting, tax and cash management guidance " .

Other requirements were a degree in accountancy whilst fluency (apart from Dutch) in English and German was asked for and some knowledge of French would be an advantage. Familiarity on a on-going basis with the overall commercial scene in Holland,

Belgium and Germany was also on Lyons' shopping list.

A sheep with five legs? Maybe, but as a matter of fact I worked at that time in Amsterdam for the Bowater Corporation in a similar function and as Bowater had plans to withdraw herself from the Netherlands and Belgium, I thought that time had come to look for another job.

However, before I could take any action in this direction, Lyons' headhunter knocked at my door. Headhunters seem to have a good nose for this type of circumstances..

On September 18 ,1975 I visited Cadby Hall for the first time in order to meet several Board members and Senior staff. On October 14 everything was signed and sealed and I could start with Lyons on December 31st 1975. A funny date to start, but a Dutch Director was needed for the founding of LIF B.V . (Lyons' International Finance) on the last day of that year!

Happy New Year to everybody and the real work could begin. We hired a secretary, Mrs Tinka Hofstra-Faeseler (THF), who had some years of working experience in London as well as in Brussels. She was, besides in Dutch as her mother tongue, fluent in English, French and German and had also a little Italian.

A 2 days a week bookkeeper completed our staff and brought the total number up to 3.1/2.

We had more nameplates at the front door of our office than people inside !

Our 4-room office was situated at Kleine Loo 402 a in the Hague. For language freaks amongst you: 'klein' means 'small' in Dutch and 'loo' is an old Dutch word for 'wood' , but our English colleagues did not want to hear my explanation and so we started the Dutch operation in January 1976 with a smile…….

What did the picture look like?

The Beckers company was one of the jewels on the Lyons' crown . Year after year they made substantial profits.

The Hooimeijer Group never performed as well as expected at the time of acquisition in 1973. Anyhow there were no losses to be accounted for and that was at least something. The results of the Marina Kuchen Bakery in Germany looked about the same.

The Alpha Hotel did not perform satisfactorily. A hotel of this seize seemed too big for a small country like the Netherlands. The majority of the Dutch businessmen leave their houses in the morning and return home the same day . The Jumbo jets did not bring the number of hotel guests as was budgetted for and only an exhibition, a congress, bad weather or an airport strike could fill up the hotel, but otherwise it was a continuous battle to get the occupancy rate up.

The Commodore Hotel in Paris looked much like the same, but this hotel was much smaller and the problems were of a different nature.

And then there was Homburg B.V, the pig meat business. Right from the time that the company came into the hands of Lyons, their profits changed into enormous losses.In seven words the reason for this dramatic turnaround can be explained loud and clear: The US closed their borders for hams.

Nobody (except the Americans) could be blamed for that but in the years to come Homburg had the doubtful honour to be one of Lyons' biggest problems.

During the first half year of 1975 we 'found the money on the streets'. It was easy to make substantial savings. Ongoing legal and tax procedures as well as the bookkeeping of the Holding companies we now did inhouse, in this way we saved the fees of outside professionals. The terms with the banks were renegotiated, but now for the Dutch Group as one entity and not for each individual company. Centralised cash management kept the use of overdraft costs to a minimum. Already in February 1976 I asked and got permission from the Lyons Board, to buy in a part of the 7% J.Lyons Convertible Loan stock (quoting far below par) on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. The profit on this exercise covered all costs of our small office for many years.

Regular meetings with the MD's of the companies and from time to time with the FD's were the places where experiences and ideas were exchanged. The Buying departments started to exchange their buying prices. For the first time the Lyons Companies operated as a group.

The lines to Cadby Hall were short: Christopher Salmon operated at Board level, I kept the contacts with all types of disciplines. It took 2.1/2 hours travelling from our office or homes to Cadby Hall via Rotterdam Airport and having an hour's time difference between the UK and Holland, we reached Hammersmith Road often at 8:30 in the morning, returning home the same evening.

In Cadby Hall only the A-Block, Addison Mansions and Elms House were still in use. All other buildings gazed at you, empty, grey and grim. Sometimes a man with a Kalasnykov fired at a police car from one of the windows,whilst a screaming woman was thrown from the roof. The reason of all this was that the empty premises of Cadby Hall were used as a scenery for a TV film from time to time.

Back to the Dutch Group, where the news early January 1977 that the Strand Hotel was sold to Trust House Forte was received with mixed feelings. In our eyes the price for which the deal had been settled was far too low. Tinka, our secretary, had the initials THF and the sour joke went around that the Strand Hotel Group was sold to THF at a 30% discount, because Tinka worked for Lyons and therefore was entitled to this sort of discount for the hotels…..

Excluded from the deal with THF were the Tower Hotel in London, the Alpha in Amsterdam, The Commodore in Paris and the Parc Hotel in Sienna (It). In the course of the year we sold The Alpha to the Novotel Group. The Commodore was sold to Aer Lingus and also the two remaining hotels were sold during the year 1977.

At the same time Lyons disposed of the Wimpy's Group, but with only 3 franchised Wimpy's in Holland, this deal hardly touched us.

I was present at Cadby Hall for the presentation of Lyons' Annual Figures 1977. The presentation by Lyons' MD Len Badham was no laughing matter and all of us were very concerned about the future of the Company.

The press in Britain as well as in Holland started to criticize Lyons. The Financial Times shouted: "Too much Salmon is bad for Lyons" aiming at the large number of members of the Salmon family at high positions within the Lyons Company. And (afterwards) the journalists all knew precisely what Lyons had been doing wrong in all those years before.

During that very same week Lyons' share price surprisingly went up and the number of shares traded increased considerably. The speculations started: any sharks around? Nestlé, Philip Morris, Unilever and Danone were names frequently heard as potential candidates for a takeover but soon thereafter the news was revealed that Allied Breweries Ltd would make an offer for all outstanding Lyons shares.

Lyons had difficulty accepting being taken over by Allied and closed their eyes to the reality. I once wrote a letter with the sentence: ".....at the time of the take-over by Allied Breweries ....." and as result of that I received a letter from a Lyons Board member telling me that "I was misinformed about Allied Breweries' take over of Lyons. The parties had achieved a merger."

Busy times arrived for our office in The Hague, as Allied's auditors visited our companies in order to see what Allied really had bought. All basic information was available in our office. After the auditor's investigation, some Allied Board members wanted to visit the newly acquired companies and also Allied's Pension fund and other disciplines started to collect information about the Lyons' companies. Allied House became another regular destination.

Allied Breweries already owned a Brewery Group in the Netherlands, consisting of four breweries. To this Group also belonged a soft drink company, a spirits and wine company and an advocaat factory (Warnink). In Belgium this Group possessed a small brewery and a mineral water source and in Paris, France, they had a large distribution centre The Anker Bir Brewery, a joint venture in Jakarta, Indonesia, completed the Dutch Allied picture. The Skol Breweries with their head office in Breda were the number two brewery in the Netherlands after Heineken.

We paid some courtesy visits to our new group members but didn't enter into closer contacts.

In the meantime Homburg B.V.continued to be a problem. The high losses were still there and the only real option should be to close down the factories. Buyers for the Homburg company were not available as there was a huge overcapacity in the pig meat industry. Companies like Unilever were already taking measures to decrease their activities in this part of their business and in no way we could expect to find a buyer for Homburg.

Lyons' Profit and Loss account could not afford to write off this investment with in addition to this write off , the high redundancy payments in relation with an eventual close down . So as a result of that, Lyons had to accept the annual flow of losses and came into the position of sitting right in the middle between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Lyons transferred a marketing manager (Laurence Morey) to Holland. In our office in The Hague he got the only spare room we had. His main task was to look at Homburg 's position in the market and to bring out an advise.

On a temporary basis Lyons brought in some staff from their Profit Improvement Unit ( PIU ) ,which Unit was managed by Bill Holland at that time. They would look at procedures, possible savings and measures to be taken within Homburg B.V.. I like to emphasize that Lyons showed an enormous amount of loyalty to this Company!

As a result of all this, Homburg ended up in a reorganisation, reducing the number of staff and closing down a factory.

Everything improved, except the losses and the end should come in 1986 when Allied-Lyons PLC ( the new combined name for the Company) decided to give away Homburg B.V. in the real sense of the word and on top of that paying an amount of money as an exit premium. Before the year 1990 could start the Homburg Company ceased to exist.

Gradually the situation in Cadby Hall was changing. After the retirement of Len Badham, Lyons' Managing Director, Allied Breweries brought in Sir Alex Alexander (previously at Unigate) to become the new MD.

In the autumn of 1979 it was announced that Christopher Salmon would leave Lyons before the end of that year. The French have the expression "Incompatiblité d'humeurs" for such a situation. By the end of 1979 Christopher Salmon left Holland and settled in France. At the same time John S.Garner, until then the controller of the Lyons Group, was appointed Finance Director of Lyons, replacing John N.Mendelssohn. JNM 's new rôle was Executive Continental Food (ECF), not only replacing Christopher Salmon, but on top of that he also was made responsible for the Lyons interests in Italy, Spain and France. He was assisted by the Controller Continental Food (CCF), Geoff S.Whaley. Geoff had working experience in Italy and spoke Italian and Spanish, which of course was an advantage in his new function..

The base of Continental Food was Cadby Hall. You don't have to be a clairvoyant nor an organisation expert to forecast that this new set-up would not work So many different businesses widely spread over Europe, with so many languages ( seven, when we include Flemish ) and with different cultures cannot be governed successfully by two persons residing in London. I was made accountable to Geoff Whaley.

In Holland the regular meetings of the MD's as well FD's were abolished. Six month later almost all contacts between the Dutch companies had disappeared.

Lawrence Morey, the marketing manager, was withdrawn to London and left Lyons somewhat later.

I was no longer allowed to have direct contacts neither with Allied House nor with Cadby Hall. All contacts in future should go via the CCF.

In the beginning of February 1980 I visited Cadby Hall and at that moment I had no idea that this would be the very last time for me. I was instructed to close down the office in the Hague and to discharge the staff members left. I had to find myself a room at Hooimeijer 's in Barendrecht.

The headhunters started again to knock at my door………

But Allied Breweries Ltd took the lead. Vernon Cull, till before Lyons' treasurer, had become treasurer for the whole Group and was based in Allied House. He phoned me and told me that.Allied had transferred the four Dutch Holding and Finance Companies from Cadby Hall to Allied House. In the head office of Skol Breweries in Breda an office should be emptied for me and I could make use there of all facilities I should need. Formally I left the Lyons organisation and joined Allied Breweries, reporting to Vernon Cull, but Lyons could continue to make use of my services if they wanted to do so. Vernon joined Lyons in 1975, 3 months earlier than I did and right from the beginning we established a pleasant relationship, a relationship that now could be renewed.

A year later, I was appointed Finance Director of the Skol Brewery Group in Holland continuing to be responsible for the Lyons Holding and Financing companies in Holland.

Lyons implemented a new setup for the Continent and a number of people, amongst them Jack Silverman, a Lyons Board member, took over responsibility for the Lyons companies in continental Europe..

Lyons once again had the same organisation as they started with in the early Seventies. Back to square one, as they say. But Lyons couldn't do anything else: fragmentation within Allied-Lyons PLC had started and all Lyons Companies were patiently waiting for their turn to be sold. In the beginning of the last decade of the century it was all over. A twenty years' adventure to the Lowlands, had come to an end.

Around the year 1400 , Thomas à Kempis told us "O quam cito transit gloria mundi". (Oh how quickly the world's glory passes away).


This is a photo of the farewell party at the Alpha Hotel in 1977.The picture is taken by Christopher Salmon (empty chair at the right). Going clockwise from the empty chair:

Mrs Barbara Welling, Wim Homburg (Homburg), Mrs. Corrie Andriessen, Will Nijsse (Holding Companies), Mrs. Bertie van Bergeijk, Gert van Bergeijk (Hooimeijer), Mrs. Carol Salmon, Max Welling (Alpha Hotel), Mrs. Tinka Hofstra (secretary), Mr. Chris Hofstra, Mrs. Pleun Nijsse, (off picture) Wim Andriessen (Beckers), Mrs. Doortje Homburg.

© Will Nijsse 2003