Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was a British chemical company and the largest manufacturer in Britain for much of its history.
It was formed by the merger of leading British chemical companies in 1926. Its headquarters were at Millbank in London, and it was a constituent of the FT 30 and later the FTSE 100.
It produced paints and speciality products (including ingredients for foods, speciality polymers, electronic materials, fragrances and flavours). ICI was acquired by AkzoNobel in 2008, who immediately sold off parts of ICI to Henkel, and integrated ICI's remaining operations within its existing organisation.
ICI developed a fabric in the 1950s known as Crimplene. Crimplene is a thick polyester yarn used to make a fabric of the same name. The resulting cloth is heavy, wrinkle-resistant and retains its shape well. The California-based fashion designer Edith Flagg was the first to import this fabric from Britain to the USA. During the first two years, ICI gave Flagg a large advertising budget to popularise the fabric across America.
In 1960, Paul Chambers became the first chairman appointed from outside the company. Chambers employed the consultancy firm McKinsey to help with reorganising the company. His eight year tenure in charge saw export sales double, but his reputation was severely damaged by a failed takeover bid for Courtaulds in 1961-2.
ICI was confronted with the nationalisation of its operations in Burma on 1 August 1962 as a consequence of the military coup.
In 1964 ICI acquired British Nylon Spinners (BNS), the company they had set up in 1940 jointly with Courtaulds. ICI surrendered its 37.5 per cent holding in Courtaulds and paid Courtaulds two million pounds a year for five years, “to take account of the future development expenditure of Courtaulds in the nylon field”. In return Courtaulds transferred to ICI their 50 per cent holding in BNS. BNS was absorbed into ICI existing polyester operation, ICI Fibres. The acquisition included BNS production plants in Pontypool, Gloucester and Doncaster together with Research and Development in Pontypool.
Peter Allen was appointed chairman between 1968 and 1971. He presided over the purchase of Viyella. Profits shrank under his tenure.
Jack Callard was appointed chairman from 1971 to 1975. He almost doubled company profits between 1972 and 1974, and made ICI Britain's largest exporter. The company acquired Atlas Chemical Industries Inc., a major American competitor, in 1971.
During the 1980s (from 1982 to 1987) the company was led by the charismatic John Harvey Jones. Under his leadership the company acquired the Beatrice Chemical Division in 1985 and Glidden Coatings & Resins, a leading paints business in 1986.
From 1991 to 2007: reorganisation of the business
In 1991 ICI sold the agricultural and merchandising operations of BritAg and Scottish Agricultural Industries to Norsk Hydro.
In 1991, ICI fought off a hostile takeover bid from Hanson, who had acquired 2.8 percent of the company. However the move pressured the company to split-off its pharmaceuticals arm.
It also divested its soda ash products arm to Brunner Mond. This ended an association with the trade that had existed since the company's inception, one that had been inherited from the original Brunner, Mond & Co. Ltd.
In 1992 the company sold its nylon business to DuPont.
Charles Miller Smith was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 1994. This was one of the few times that someone from outside ICI had been appointed to lead the company, Smith having previously been a director at Unilever. Shortly afterwards the company acquired a number of former Unilever businesses, in an attempt to move away from the company's historical reliance on commodity chemicals.
In 1997 ICI acquired National Starch & Chemical, Quest, Unichema, and Crosfield, the speciality chemicals businesses of Unilever for $8bn. This step was part of a strategy to move away from cyclical bulk chemicals and to progress up the value chain to become a higher growth, higher margin business. Later that year it went on to buy Rutz & Huber, a Swiss paints business.
Having taken on some £4 billion of debt to finance these acquisitions, the company had to sell off its commodity chemicals businesses.
Disposals of bulk chemicals businesses at that time included the sale of its Australian subsidiary, ICI Australia, for £1bn in 1997, and of its polyester chemicals business to DuPont for $3 billion also in 1997.
The following year it sold Crosfield to WR Grace and bought Acheson, an electronic chemicals business.
In 2000 ICI sold its diisocyanate, advanced materials, and speciality chemicals businesses at Teesside and worldwide (including plants at Rozenburg, Holland, in South Africa, Malaysia, and Taiwan), and Tioxide, its titanium dioxide subsidiary, to Huntsman Corporation for £1.7 billion. It also sold the last of its industrial chemicals businesses to Ineos for £300 million.
Having sold off much of its historically profitable commodities businesses, and many of the new speciality businesses, which it had failed to integrate, the company consisted mainly of the Dulux paints business, which quickly found itself the subject of a takeover by AkzoNobel.
Dutch firm AkzoNobel (owner of Crown Berger paints) bid £7.2 billion (€10.66 billion or $14.5 billion US) for ICI in June 2007. An area of concern about a potential deal was ICI's British pension fund, which had future liabilities of more than £9 billion at the time. Regulatory issues in the UK and other markets where Dulux and Crown Paints brands each have significant market share were also a cause for concern for the boards of ICI and Akzo Nobel. In the UK, any combined operation without divestments would have seen Akzo Nobel have a 54% market share in the paint market. The initial bid was rejected by the ICI board and the majority of shareholders. However, a subsequent bid for £8 billion (€11.82 billion) was accepted by ICI in August 2007, pending approval by regulators.
At 8.00am on 2 January 2008 completion of the takeover of ICI plc by Akzo Nobel NV was announced. Shareholders of ICI received either £6.70 in cash or Akzo Nobel loan notes to the value of £6.70 per 1 nominal ICI share. The adhesives business of ICI was transferred to Henkel as a result of the deal, while Akzo agreed to sell its Crown Paints subsidiary to satisfy the concerns of the European Commissioner for Competition.
The areas of concern regarding the ICI UK pension scheme were addressed by ICI and Akzo.
ICI operated a number of chemical sites around the world. In the UK the main plants were as follows:
Blackley (in Manchester) and Huddersfield: ICI used the sites to manufacture dyestuffs. The dye business, known as the ICI Dyestuffs Division in the 1960s, went through several reorganisations. Through the years it was combined with other specialty chemicals businesses and became ICI Colours and Fine Chemicals and then ICI Specialties.
Runcorn (in Cheshire): ICI used the site to manufacture chlorine and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). For many years it was known as ICI Mond Division but later became part of the ICI Chemicals and Polymers Division. The Runcorn site was also responsible for the development of the HiGEE and Spinning Disc Reactor concepts. These were originated by Professor Colin Ramshaw and led to the concept of Process Intensification: research into these novel technologies is now being pursued by the Process Intensification Group at Newcastle University.
Winnington and Wallerscote (in Northwich, Cheshire): It was here that ICI manufactured sodium carbonate (soda ash) and its various by-products such as sodium bicarbonate (bicarbonate of soda), and sodium sesquicarbonate. The Winnington site, built in 1873 by the entrepreneurs John Tomlinson Brunner and Ludwig Mond, was also the base for the former company Brunner, Mond & Co. Ltd. and, after the merger which created ICI, the powerful and influential Alkali Division. It was at the laboratories on this site that polythene was discovered by accident in 1933 during experiments into high pressure reactions. Wallerscote was built in 1926, its construction delayed by the First World War, and became one of the largest factories devoted to a single product (soda ash) in the world. However, the decreasing importance of the soda ash trade to ICI in favour of newer products such as paints and plastics, meant that in 1984 the Wallerscote site was closed, and thereafter mostly demolished. The laboratory where polythene was discovered was sold off and the building became home to a variety of businesses including a go-kart track and paintballing, and the Winnington Works were divested to the newly formed company, Brunner Mond, in 1991. It was again sold in 2006, to Tata (an Indian based company) and in 2011 was re branded as Tata Chemicals Europe. The Winnington plant closed in February 2014, with the last shift on 2 February bringing to a close 140 years of soda ash production in Northwich.
ICI subsidiary, formerly called Duperial since 1928 until 1995, when was renamed to ICI. Established in the city of San Lorenzo, Santa Fe. It's operating in an integrated production site with commercial offices in Buenos Aires. Since 2009 called Akzo Nobel Functional Chemicals S.A. and produces sulfuric acid with ISO cerfication.