Founders put engineering giant Renishaw up for sale after 50 years

The industrialists behind Renishaw are set for a £2.6bn windfall after putting the engineering giant they founded up for sale.

Sir David McMurtry, 80, and John Deer, 83, set up the company in 1973 and built it into a world-leading manufacturer of precision measurement devices, worth £5billion.

But they said they now ‘felt the time was right’ to step back from the business and sell their collective 53 per cent stake. The announcement sent the firm’s shares soaring by 19 per cent, or 1100p, to a record 6900p.

Selling up: Renishaw founder John Deer, left, has a stake worth £834m while fellow founder Sir David McMurtry, right, has a holding worth £1.82bn

That valued McMurtry’s 36.2 per cent stake at £1.82billion while Deer’s 16.6 per cent holding is now worth £834million. 

‘We are both grateful for our continued good health, however we recognise that neither of us is getting any younger,’ the pair said.

‘Now finding ourselves in our 80s, our thoughts have increasingly turned to considering the future of our shareholdings in the company and how we can actively contribute to securing the future success of the business.

‘We approached the rest of the board to indicate that we felt the time was now right to discuss the best way to achieve this. We are focused on ensuring that we find the right new owner for our business – one who respects and will continue to nurture these important attributes.’

The proposed sale raises the prospect of yet another high-tech British success story falling into foreign hands or to a private equity bidder.

Berenberg analyst Anthony Plom said that Renishaw was ‘one of the few world-class UK manufacturing businesses left’.

McMurtry and Deer stressed that they will seek ‘a buyer who will respect the unique heritage and culture of the business, its commitment to the local communities in which its operations are based, and who will enable the company to continue to prosper in the long-term’.

Futuristic: McMurtry’s £30million eco home doubled as a TV supervillain’s lair in BBC's Sherlock

Futuristic: McMurtry’s £30million eco home doubled as a TV supervillain’s lair in BBC’s Sherlock

The company is based in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, and employs nearly 4,500 people. McMurtry, who is executive chairman, remains Renishaw’s biggest shareholder, while Deer is non-executive deputy chairman and the second-biggest shareholder.

The pair met in the 1970s while working in Bristol for Rolls-Royce, where McMurtry rose to be deputy chief designer. He had been tasked with finding a way to measure small fuel pipes used in Rolls’s Olympus engines, to power the Concorde jet.

Workers had been doing this with a traditional probe but during a weekend in his garage, McMurtry invented the first ‘touch trigger probe’ using basic materials he had at home.

The electrical device, which triggered a signal when it came into contact with the surface of a pipe, was capable of measuring to one millionth of a metre.

‘It took me all weekend, many hours, and nearly a divorce,’ McMurtry later said.

It proved far more accurate and consistent than the old methods, and soon became ubiquitous in the manufacturing world.

And from that kernel, the pair started Renishaw Electrical together in 1973. They bought the company, which came with its name, as an empty shell to bypass the lengthy incorporation process at the time.

At first, Rolls-Royce patented McMurtry’s idea but the partners became sole-licensees, co-owners and eventually sole owners after buying out their former employer.

Berenberg analyst Anthony Plom said that Renishaw was ‘one of the few world-class UK manufacturing businesses left’

Berenberg analyst Anthony Plom said that Renishaw was ‘one of the few world-class UK manufacturing businesses left’

Renishaw also fought several court battles to protect its intellectual property from copycats, before going on to list on the London Stock Exchange in 1984. Since then, it has grown and now owns nearly 1,900 patents. 

In 2019, before the pandemic struck, it boasted annual revenues of £574million and profits of £110million. 

The headquarters in Wotton-under-Edge is a 19th century former woollen mill, previously owned by fabric maker Courtaulds Textiles, in 26 acres of parkland.

And, ever the inventor, McMurtry built his own futuristic eco-mansion nearby – the spectacular Swinhay House.

The eight-bedroom, £30million property, with its distinctive blend of glass-panelled ceilings, metal panelling and Cotswold stone, doubled as a supervillain’s lair in BBC show Sherlock.

Across ten storeys and three wings, it boasts its own underground garage, bowling alley, squash court, 47ft high viewing tower, jacuzzi, sauna and a 25-metre swimming pool.

But McMurtry and his family prefer not to live in the country home, which is used to host charitable events and rented out for photography and film-making.

Renishaw, too, has branched out from its roots. While its measuring products are used to make sure machinery moves precisely in production lines ranging from food manufacturing to televisions, it also works in robotics, dental products and 3D printing.

Russ Mould, investment director of broker AJ Bell, said the sale could see Renishaw taken private and removed from the stock market.

Warning that the UK stock market was ‘battling an identity problem’, he added: ‘News that Renishaw has put itself up for sale is a further blow if it results in a sale to a third party that delists the business.

‘One could imagine that an Asian company would be interested in owning Renishaw, but such a buyer may have different views on whose culture should prevail.’

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