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Call centre boss hails new French owner

SCOTTISH call centre company HEROtsc, which employs about 3000 people north of the Border, has been sold by its Indian owner to Paris-headquartered Webhelp Group in a deal expected to create more jobs.

JOINING FORCES: Webhelp's Frédéric Jousset with HEROtsc chief executive David Turner. Picture: Peter Devlin

The deal values HEROtsc at around €90 million (£78m). Indian motorcycle manufacturer Hero Group is selling its near-90% stake in the business, with the management of HEROtsc rolling over their combined holding of around 12% to 13% into the renamed Webhelp TSC.

David Turner, who will remain chief executive of the Stirlingshire-based contact centre business, yesterday highlighted his belief that the deal would lead to a rise in his operation's workforce.

He cited the new French owner's heavy investment in technologies to provide multi-channel capabilities, including email, SMS (short message service) texts, social media and web-chat.

Asked if existing employees' jobs would be safe, and if there was potential to increase the workforce after the deal, Mr Turner replied: "Absolutely. I have been clear with my people about this. I think it is a great acquisition. I have spent nearly the last 12 months looking at the right partner to buy this business."

Mr Turner, who will join Webhelp Group's board, added: "What I was looking to do was put the business in the right shareholder hands. I think it is just a marriage made in heaven."

Highlighting opportunities to sell "additional capability" to current clients and to attract new customers, he added: "I would be looking to grow our business in revenue, profitability, and people (terms)."

HEROtsc, based at Larbert, also employs about 3000 people in England, at Warrington, Dearne Valley, and Derby.

Asked if his comment about increasing staff applied to Scotland as well as the business as a whole, Mr Turner replied: "There is an attractiveness in wanting to grow that in Scotland as opposed to other parts of the UK. They (Webhelp) see the importance of that as well."

The price paid for HEROtsc was not disclosed, but sources in France put it at €90m.

HEROtsc has a workforce of more than 850 people at Larbert and nearly 1000 in Glasgow. It has a total of more than 250 staff at its call centres at Rothesay on Bute and Dunoon in Argyll. It has about 550 people at Kilmarnock, and more than 300 at Greenock.

Satellite broadcaster BSkyB and mobile phone giant Vodafone are major clients of HEROtsc, which also does work for office products seller Office Depot, energy group E.ON, and telecoms company BT.

HEROtsc was born when HERO bought Telecom Service Centres for £40m in 2007. In the year to March 2012, HEROtsc defied tough economic conditions by hiking pre-tax profits from £4.18m to £9m as turnover rose from £62.4m to £81.7m. Mr Turner said yesterday that turnover in the year to March 2013 would exceed £100m.

In December, Mr Turner, who joined the business in 2008, cited "phenomenal" growth in HEROtsc's workforce from about 1800 to around 6000 in the space of about four years.

Webhelp Group operates 24 contact centres in continental Europe and North Africa, has annual revenues of €220m and employs 10,500 people. It is backed by London and Paris-based Charterhouse Capital Partners, which acquired a majority stake in the business in 2011. Mr Turner cited Webhelp's appetite for further acquisitions around the globe.

HEROtsc chief financial officer Dean Hartley and chief operating officer Andy Doig are also staying with the business under its new ownership.

Webhelp Group founder and co-chairman Frédéric Jousset said: "HEROtsc is an excellent business with a strong track record."

FAMILY-owned McMillan Hotels has remained in profit in spite of a dip in turnover amid challenging trading conditions.

Accounts filed at Companies House show the business, which runs hotels including the Peebles Hydro and Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, reported a pre-tax profit of £29,212 in the 12 months to May 31, 2012.

That was down on the £1.25 million recorded the previous year although that figure included a £1.2m gain on the sale of surplus land.

In the accounts the directors said: "Profitable performance is a noteworthy achievement given the exceptionally competitive market and the continued economic downturn."

In the most recent financial year, turnover dipped to £9.7m from £9.9m as overall customer numbers fell "slightly" with occupancy down 2.6%.

However, the business, based in Stranraer, Wigtownshire, said gross margins had held steady while there had been a 0.5% increase in how much each customer spent.

Douglas McMillan, director, said: "Margins were maintained, and costs reduced in line with the slight fall in revenue. Efficient management of the business saw the group record profits for the third year, despite the tough times being encountered throughout the sector.

"We have also been successful in reducing net debt, and we continue to look at ways of improving the business."

During the year there was a "significant refurbishment" of the ballroom at the 132-bedroom Peebles Hydro which followed on from a revamp of the public areas the previous year.

Those improvements are said to have boosted wedding, conference and events bookings, with the full benefits likely to be seen in the current trading period.

The company said it reduced long-term debt by £1.3m in the financial year while net debt was cut by almost £500,000 to £6.6m. Interest payments rose from £251,160 to £335,987.

The directors said: "Bank of Scotland continues to provide solid support to the business and has agreed banking facilities through to June 2013 on the strength of recent and projected performance."

Overall directors' emoluments fell from £250,910 to £245,498 although the highest paid saw their benefits rise from £88,301 to £92,126. Average employee numbers were down from 338 to 334 with staff costs dipping from £4.31m to £4.29m.

McMillan Hotels was founded when Hammy McMillan returned home to Stranraer from running his building business in Canada to open the North West Castle Hotel in 1962. In 1970 Mr Hamilton, a keen curler, made the North West the first hotel in the world to have an indoor curling rink.

The Cally Palace, in Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway, was bought in 1981 and a golf course was added.

In the 1990s the business snapped up the Kirroughtree Country House Hotel in Newton Stewart, Glenapp Castle and Fernhill in Portpatrick.

In November 2004 there was expansion outside the south- west of Scotland heartlands when the Peebles Hydro and its sister hotel, The Park, were snapped up.

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