David Parkin on meeting an old business friend and saying goodbye to another

IT felt just like the old days.

Up with the lark, a quick shower and shave, put a tie on to complement my Michelsberg jacket, a slurp of tea and then out to scrape the ice off the car before heading to a business breakfast event.

It used to be a weekly occurrence for me and probably quite a lot of people in business.

But going to a business event seems to be the exception rather than the rule these days.

There is always a sense of the unknown – who will I meet there, will it be awkward or easy and will it be worthwhile?

But I find that if you embrace the opportunity with enthusiasm then you will certainly enjoy it and the rest will take care of itself.

That was certainly the case yesterday when I attended the UK Israel business breakfast at the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Centre in North Leeds.

The headline speaker, Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, had cancelled the day before as her mother died last week.

Fortunately the event’s other guest speaker, Sir Anthony Ullman, was more than able to step up to the plate, taking part in a question and answer session with marketeer Jonny Ross.

I’ve known this charismatic entrepreneur since my days at the Yorkshire Post.

Our paths haven’t crossed a great deal but whenever they have I’ve found Sir Anthony a likeable and very interesting person to talk to.

Born into a Bradford textile family, he began his near 50-year career in the industry working with his father for a few years before deciding it was a mistake and so set out on his own manufacturing and distributing polyester yarn used in automotive interior trim by all the major car makers worldwide.

In 1998 he and his business partner founded Autofil Worldwide when they acquired Europe’s most modern state of the art manufacturing facility off junction 27 of the M1 in Nottinghamshire.

He tells a story about how the local MEP rang up one day and wanted to meet a business on his patch which was trading with Europe.

That politician was Nick Clegg, the man who became leader of the Liberal Democrats and deputy Prime Minister and Anthony became a longstanding adviser to the politician, eventually being knighted in the Dissolution Honours List in 2015.

Sir Nick Clegg is now president of global affairs at Meta, which owns Facebook, second in command to founder Mark Zuckerberg at one of the world’s biggest companies.

I’ve always said it’s good to have contacts.

At Autofil, Anthony and his Belgian business partner built the business to sales of £40m and a 35% share of the European automotive yarn market and sold it to an Italian group in 2012.

Anthony stayed on as chief executive and then chairman before retiring in 2017.

But a bit like the experience he had working with his father, he says he recognised that following his wife around Sainsbury’s wasn’t for him.

After many coffee meetings with corporate financiers and businesses he decided to acquire the speciality furniture brand Shackletons.

Despite knowing little about the furniture making business, he was attracted by the heritage of the brand, still remembered for its TV adverts back in the 1980s.

Established in 1959, Shackletons has a team of more than 100 people in Dewsbury who hand make its furniture which is principally used in care homes and for senior living.

The business has a retail store in Batley and ambitious plans to grow in a market where the UK population is getting older.

New chief executive Donna Bellingham, who has vast experience in the furniture industry, arrived in September and you could tell from the way Sir Anthony spoke, that retirement doesn’t look to be beckoning any time soon.

Looking fit, well dressed and bubbling with enthusiasm, when he finally does decide to put his feet up in a Shackletons’ chair is anybody’s guess.

When the discussion was opened to the floor, I took the opportunity to ask Sir Anthony a question about who had most impressed him during his long career in business and politics.

“Well, there used to be a very good business editor at the Yorkshire Post…” he replied with a grin.

I looked around me, realised that discretion is the better part of valour, and said: “I don’t know what happened to him.”

He then told a fascinating story about how impressed he had been by an Indian entrepreneur who he knew who had built his business to a £15bn operation but put his success down to people.

Good people make a great business and that is clearly something Sir Anthony values at Shackletons.


FAREWELL then Michael Evans.

The Yorkshire-born property entrepreneur died suddenly at the weekend at his home in Monaco aged 87.

His long standing friend and adviser Rodney Dalton phoned to tell me the news earlier this week and was clearly still in shock at Michael’s sudden passing.

Despite his great success with Evans Property Group – he moved to Monaco at the end of the 1970s when tax rates were higher than they are today – Michael was a very private man who split his time between the home he and his German-born wife Helga shared in Monaco, their house in Arizona (where apparently Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks was their next-door neighbour) and his treasured yacht, the White Rose of Drachs.

Thanks to Rodney I got to know Michael and his family a little and have some incredible memories I owe them.

When Michael’s yacht, which was custom-built in a shipyard in Germany, was completed, he flew two plane loads of guests from Luton and Leeds to the launching ceremony in Hamburg.

We were taken by coach from the airport to the shipyard where we enjoyed a tour of the boat and then lunch in a marquee on the quayside after the launch ceremony by the Duchess of York.

Among the guests was Keith Hellawell, the former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire who became the government’s drugs czar and who was a non-executive director of the Evans Property Group.

He later took a similar role with Mike Ashley at Sports Direct.

We were later flown back to Leeds Bradford Airport.

As Saturdays go, it stands out in the memory.

I was later invited to dinner with Michael on the boat when it was moored at the property conference MIPIM in Cannes.

One of the guests was Ken McCulloch, the hotel entrepreneur who founded the Malmaison chain.

The Evans family worked with him to launch the impressive Dakota hotel brand, which they now solely own.

One year I found myself holidaying alone in Majorca after the end of a long-term relationship with my girlfriend (I think it lasted two months).

I find myself fascinating but there is only so much time you can spend on your own.

My hotel room overlooked the port in Palma and I used to entertain myself by scanning the superyachts moored up and looking up who owned them on the internet.

One was registered to the American who owned the underwear brand Victoria’s Secret and plenty of others were owned by a myriad of oil sheikhs from the Middle East.

One morning I opened my curtains to see a boat in the harbour that I recognised.

It was the White Rose of Drachs.

It’s name sounds like it has some Greek influence but of course White Rose is a nod to Michael’s Yorkshire roots while Drachs is made up of the initials of the first names of his five children.

I texted Rodney Dalton to say I had spotted the Evans’ yacht in the harbour.

An hour later I got a reply: “Michael and Helga would be delighted if you would join them for lunch on the boat at 12 noon.”

I positively skipped along the front of the marina as I made my way to the boat for what was a very enjoyable and entertaining lunch with Michael and Helga.

Afterwards I chatted for an hour with Michael in his office on board the boat (some who have been in there used to call it the “bollocking room”) and he wanted to know about what was happening in business in Yorkshire and shared some wonderful stories about the people he had encountered during his long business career.

Calling a tycoon down-to-earth seems like an oxymoron, but Michael Evans couldn’t be compartmentalised and did things his way.

He will be missed.


ALISTAIR Darling is another person to have left us this week at the age of just 70.

The former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer was one of those unique politicians who earned the respect of both his colleagues and his opponents.

Credited with guiding Britain through one of the most serious financial crises it faced in modern times, the softly-spoken Scot with a considered manner also successfully stewarded the campaign to keep Scotland part of the UK during the independence referendum.

That’s me with him above when he visited Leeds to talk about the financial measures he was putting in place to shepherd the economy out of the gloom of the credit crunch.

It must have been 2008, I think it was taken by talented freelance photographer Simon Dewhurst at an event at Bridgewater Place in Leeds the year after I’d launched TheBusinessDesk.com and when I still had the semblance of a fringe.

Running a media business during a financial crisis put paid to what was left of it.

Alistair Darling was a politician who earned respect by answering questions honestly and doing what he believed was the right thing.

The number of tributes from people from all sides of the political spectrum that greeted his death are testament to that.


As high culture goes, ‘An Evening with Robin Askwith’ probably isn’t it.

But that’s where I found myself on Wednesday evening as the star of the 1970s ‘Confessions of…’ sex comedies appeared on stage at the HiFi Club in Leeds.

My friend Nathan Lane of Campfire PR invited me.

Not because either of us are fans of the ‘Confessions’ films (I don’t think I’ve seen any of them more than four or five times) but because when I stayed with Nathan and his wife Zoe and son Clark in Puerto Pollensa in Majorca once I made the mistake of telling the parents of a young boy that Clark had befriended that he “looked like a young Robin Askwith”.

It didn’t go down well and I made myself scarce while Nathan and Zoe tried to prevent a diplomatic incident from exploding in the main square of the pretty seaside town.

Have a great weekend.

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