Polestar Stones-Wheatons buyout confirmed

More than 150 jobs have been saved following a management buyout of the Polestar Stones and Wheatons sites.

Administrators from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) confirmed that a deal had been concluded on Friday evening (10 June).

The buyout means 92 jobs have been saved at sheetfed printer Stones in Banbury, and 59 at Exeter book printer Wheatons.

Details, however, remain sketchy. PwC said the businesses had been sold “to the management team” but further details were unavailable at the time of writing.

Two new apparently related companies had been set up earlier this year by Richard Walsh, who was understood to act as finance director for both sites, working via an agency.

He is currently the sole named director, and chief executive, of Henry Stone Ltd and Wheatons Exeter Ltd. Both were incorporated in March.    

Sources said that Richard Hinchliffe, European sales manager at Wheatons and Steve Ottley (commercial services manager at Wheatons and estimating manager at Stones) are also part of the deal, although this is currently unconfirmed.

According to the Polestar contact list other members of the current management team include former MPG Books chief executive Tony Chard, who is listed as being the managing director at Wheatons, while Paul Banton is managing director at Stones.  

PrintWeek understands that Thames Valley Capital is involved with backing the buyout. Founder Bruce Gordon was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

The new owners and management team will need to cope with an immediate drop-off in work at Stones, which used to print a large quantity of magazine covers for Polestar Bicester – sources said it was as much as 40% of the firm’s turnover.

Bicester's equipment was sold to Wyndeham Group owner Walstead just over a week ago. Wyndeham confirmed that it would now be using its own cover printing facilities at Wyndeham Grange.

The 10-colour Manroland 700 HiPrint sheetfed press at Wheatons is also in the process of being removed from the Exeter site. It was repossessed by finance company Paragon Bank Business Finance after Polestar defaulted on the payments.

The press has been sold to an overseas buyer.

Wheatons also runs a five-colour Speedmaster 74, 48pp Timsons ZMR book press, two HP Indigo digital presses, and two mono Heidelberg Digimasters. Its finishing set-up includes a 27-station Muller Martini Bolero PUR binder.

Stones runs three 10-colour Speedmasters, one of which is an XL model with CutStar, and a 12-colour Speedmaster 102, also with CutStar. It also has Muller Martini perfect binding and stitching lines, two Steinemann UV coaters, and an Autobond laminator.

Last year Polestar had announced plans to close Stones and consolidate its operations into Bicester, but the plans stalled and were overtaken by events caused by the cash crisis at the group, which resulted in most of its operations going into administration in April



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