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Stewarts return to plastics

By Chris Hutching

Friday 4th April 2003

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The Stewart family of Christchurch is buying back into one of the subsidiary companies it controlled as a majority shareholder of formerly listed PDL Holdings, which it sold two years ago to multinational company Schneider Electric for $100 million.

Over the past couple of years, family representative and former PDL managing director Mark Stewart has been saying he had been evaluating investment prospects for the family fortune. Now the family has settled on a company called Alto Plastics, which happens to be a former subsidiary PDL sold in 2000 for $25 million in a management buyout funded by ANZ Private Equity.

The move puzzled some analysts because plastics was the core of PDL's business when Sir Robertson Stewart founded the firm in the 1960s.

Now the Stewarts have set up a holding company for the new investment called Masthead Ltd, which includes the interests of PDL founder Sir Robertson, wife Adrienne, Lady Stewart and son Robert Stewart, who owns the Skope business in Christchurch.

The constitution of Masthead says the company was set up to hold the assets of a joint venture intended only as a bare trustee for the interests of Huntly Trust (associated with Sir Robertson, whose middle name is Huntly), Ellen Trust, and No. 1 Trust, each with one equal share in the company.

Mark Stewart, managing director of Masthead, said the family had bought a stake of about 40% in Alto Plastics for an undisclosed sum. Alto has annual turnover of $50 million, employs 350 people in Christchurch and Auckland where it manufactures plastic packaging for the food and beverage sector and specialises in technical injection mouldings for electrical accessories.

Mr Stewart said his family knew the business and the people involved. He has become a director of Alto while Mark Wheeler will continue as managing director.

The Alto Plastics deal was the first significant investment for the newly formed ANZ Private Equity in late 2000. At that time the plastics division was reported to have annual revenue of $34 million. The investment by ANZ Private Equity has vindicated international research that shows management buyouts out-perform other forms of ownership, according to ANZ Private Equity director Mike Bradley. ANZ remains as the company's banker.

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