Whessoe jobs safe say Euro owners

Norwegian and Swiss buyers reassure 950-strong workforce

By Hugh Sharpe

The majority of operating jobs among the 950-strong Whessoe workforce look safe under its new European owners.

Norwegian firm Navia and Swiss-owned Endress & Hauser, which combined in a £52.5m successful bid, have pledged to run Whessoe’s businesses for growth.

`We do not envisage redundancies among operating personnel. We aim to expand activities,’ said Claus Riemenschneider, who runs E&H, a privately-owned measurement and control business.

Only about 150 of Whessoe personnel are in the UK, with most either in the US or in Norway. Whessoe’s Autronica offshoot employs around 450 people making fire security and marine instruments in Trondheim. Navia, a high-tech navigation and communication products firm, is a near neighbour.

The buyers are dividing the group. Navia is taking Autronica, which is two-thirds of the whole, and E&H the liquid measurement and controls businesses.

Whessoe’s swift acceptance of what Christopher Fleetwood, chief executive, describes as the `quite exceptional’ 175p a share offer, was almost as quick as the decision of rival suitor Siebe to pull out after its £46m offer had been topped. Allen Yurko, Siebe chief executive, said any `significantly increased’ offer would not be in his shareholders’ interests.

`There was clearly a limit to how much time and money a giant like Siebe would want to spend on what for them was a relatively small deal,’ said Fleetwood.

But Siebe’s abrupt move caught the City on the hop: it had marked Whessoe’s shares 10p above the Europeans’ bid figure, expecting the big rival to stay in the auction.

When it did not, the shares fell back to the European offer price.

Navia bid for Autronica in 1995 but got a thumbs down. It returned with E&H seeking an agreed deal for the whole company only a week before Siebe came up with its deal.