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Sale benefi ted both ICE and NCE

ICE newsTen years ago this week, the Institution sold New Civil Engineer to publishing giant Emap. Antony Oliver explains.

WHEN PRESIDENT Tony Ridley took the unusual step of writing to all ICE Council members, urging them to attend the 12 June 1995 meeting they probably suspected something big was in the offing.

But few foresaw that the debate would centre on the sale of the ICE's magazine publishing interests, and with them New Civil Engineer, the magazine of the ICE and voice of the profession.

As it turned out, a packed Council meeting agreed the £6M sale during an unprecedented 'closed session' - the room was cleared of secretariat and observers leaving only voting members in the chamber.

After a two hour debate, Council was asked to decide whether to do nothing and see the publishing business gradually slide into loss, invest more cash into the business to modernise it, or sell it and realise valuable cash to ease the ICE's financial woes.

Pressure had been growing on the ICE for some time to realise cash from its publishing business, particularly since it was carrying a £4M overdraft - a legacy of the £15M revamp of the Great George Street headquarters.

But it was also aware that the publishing business needed substantial new investment in technology to keep it moving forward - investment that could easily distract the ICE from core activities.

Until that point only a select group at the ICE knew about the on-going negotiations. Director general Roger Dobson and president Tony Ridley led the discussions - Ridley had been brought in after the premature death of president Edmund Hambly two months earlier.

This duo was supported by vice president David Green, Thomas Telford (Holdings) chairman Roger Sainsbury and finance director Bill Cormie. All were bound by a strict confidentiality agreement.

The reason for secrecy was that two bidders were in the frame, one of which had no idea that it wasn't alone. The Builder Group, owner of Building magazine, had made the initial running - unaware that Emap had opened parallel discussions with Dobson's team in secret.

Both were bidding to buy the ICE's magazine publishing portfolio. This included the weeklies NCE and loss-making New Builder plus monthlies Civil Engineer International, Ground Engineering, Water & Environment Management, Highways and Offshore Engineer. Both offered similar prices.

Council voted overwhelmingly to accept Emap's offer.

Dobson described the deal as 'a classic win-win' for Emap and the ICE and emphasised that it was 'not a simple sale of the family silver' as it ensured continued magazine quality without exposing the ICE to 'unnecessary risk'.

President Tony Ridley agreed: 'We are here to look after the well-being of members and develop the Institution to be fit for the 21st century, ' explained Ridley. 'Council believes that this arrangement assists rather than detracts from it.'

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