VENERABLE Glasgow printer John Watson & Company is to end nearly two centuries of independence with a multi-million-pound sale to a global printing group, The Herald has learned.
The Scottish firm is being sold by its 64-year-old executive chairman, John Watson, the fifth generation of his family to run the business, and the deal could be announced as early as today.
It is believed there will be no job losses among the 80-strong workforce of John Watson & Company, which specialises in producing labels and tube wraps for bottles of Scotch whisky and other spirits, as a result of the deal.
The issue of his employees' job security is likely to have been crucial for Mr Watson, who has over the years highlighted the loyalty of a generally long- serving workforce.
It is understood that, while talks about the acquisition of John Watson & Company reached a critical stage over the last two weeks, negotiations have been taking place for more than a year.
Several other parties are believed to have expressed an interest in purchasing John Watson & Company. It is understood the other expressions of interest were not taken forward because those involved had invested recently in overseas printing plants.
When contacted by The Herald about the impending deal, Mr Watson declined to comment.
John Watson & Company produces about 20 million labels each week. It has defied the economic downturn and tough conditions in a printing sector which has been blighted by corporate collapses, and it raised its sales and profits significantly in its last financial year.
Mr Watson has been with the company for about 46 years, and he has been chairman since 1985. Two sons, 24-year-old Angus and 21-year-old Sandy, are the sixth generation of the family to work for the company.
Mr Watson has emphasised in the past the firm has not made a loss in any of his 46 years with the business.
Bob Hodgson, director of the Edinburgh-based Graphic Enterprise Scotland organisation which was formerly known as the Scottish Print Employers' Federation, said: "This is an exciting time for John Watson & Company. They have achieved remarkable growth and success. They operate at the top end of the quality range and their 20 million labels produced each week are exported all over the world."
Mr Hodgson, a print industry veteran, added: "The company has always outperformed the market and been ahead of the curve. Even in the 1970s, John Watson appeared to be a man on a mission and also renowned for being a man in a hurry. We wish him well."
John Watson & Company can trace its roots back to about 1826. It achieved a near-20% hike in turnover and raised its profits in the year to March 2012, in the teeth of a double-dip UK recession, as it benefited from boom times in the Scotch whisky industry.
The family business, which in 2010 made the bold decision to purchase a £3 million self- adhesive or pressure-sensitive label press, hiked its turnover by 19.8% to £11.6m in the year to March 31, 2012.
It increased pre-tax profits to £278,070 in the year to March 31, from £204,830 in the prior 12 months. After an overall tax credit of £66,997 in the profit and loss account, the firm retained a profit of £345,067.
John Watson & Company's net debt fell from £4.81m to £4.24m during the year to March 31.
The drinks industry accounts for about 85% of John Watson & Company's business. The vast bulk of this drinks industry business is for Scotch whisky producers.
Mr Watson told The Herald in September there was "hardly any" of the major Scotch whisky producers with which his firm did not do business.
John Watson & Company previously did a lot of printing for electronics giants such as IBM and Compaq, particularly in the 1980s. It saw this work disappear as these companies moved operations out of Scotland, but managed to win other business to replace this.