HIGH-PROFILE Scottish businessman Lord Willie Haughey has set out his ambition to expand his facilities management empire across Europe, declaring that Brexit will not block his growth plans on the continent.

Lord Haughey has established a bridgehead for his recently renamed City Facilities Management in Europe with the acquisition of Lesprit, which trades as AMF in France and MML in the UK. It marked the first foray into mainland Europe for the company, formerly known as City Refrigeration, which over the last decade has been steadily expanding overseas in Australia, Asia and the US.

Lord Haughey, a shareholder and former director of Celtic Football Club, said the move into Europe had followed two years of “fantastic growth” for the business, which he established in 1985.

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Through the Lesprit acquisition it now operates in France, the Czech Republic and Hungary, with Lord Haughey ambitious to move into other countries on the continent. Its City Facilities Management Europe subsidiary, headquartered in Paris, has been set up to provide a gateway to markets such as Spain, Portugal and Romania.

Lord Haughey said: “I just thought that, having a substantial business now here, in Australia, in the US and now in Asia, that it was crazy that we didn’t have anything at all in Europe.

“It actually came out of a conversation I had with someone out in Australia, and he said to me: “Willie what happened, did you just miss out the rest of the world and get here?”

“It was a kind of throwaway line that made me sit up and think, and when the opportunity came about to be involved in Europe, even though the whole Brexit thing was going on, we just felt it was the right thing to do.”

Asked if the Brexit vote had caused him to think twice about the deal, Lord Haughey added: “I think, honestly, that for 200 years before that everyone traded when there were no rules. And once Brexit is decided and everything is determined, I still think people will trade.

“Although there may be some barriers, [and] laws might change, I still think we will be doing business with Europe, and Europe will do business with us.”

While Lord Haughey said that it had been his preference for the UK to remain in the EU, believing that “we are stronger together”, he does not expect Brexit to cause “too much damage” to business once the UK leaves. But he conceded Brexit will make it tougher for some types of enterprise than others.

Lord Haughey added: “People who are exporting to goods from country to country may find it tougher. Where you are entrenched delivering a service in another country it might be a bit easier.”

Although City has moved into mainland Europe through making an acquisition, Lord Haughey said its favoured model is to grow the business organically. “We see opportunities with the existing clients through the purchase,” he noted. “There’s no great desire on our part for more acquisitions.”

Lord Haughey took the company’s first steps outside the UK in 2007, when it launched in Australia with in initial focus on refrigeration and standard maintenance in the retails sector. The Australian business, which is headquartered in Melbourne but operates across the country, now turns over £200m, employing more than 1,000 staff.

“It’s certainly been a good choice to look at the opportunities for City FM in Australia, and it has obviously paid dividends,” Lord Haughey said.

“Now we’re talking to people in the medicare industry, and in the commercial sector in Australia.”

Following Australia, the company’s next port of call was Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, before it moved across the Atlantic last year when it set up its US subsidiary in Jacksonville, Florida. The company, which also acquired Boston’s Baltic Trail Engineering last year, expects to drive turnover and profits in the US on the back of partnerships with two major supermarket chains. Its American business, which covers 22 states, has built annual turnover to almost $200m.

“In that short period it’s been a phenomenal story,” he said.”

The company now has more than 12,000 staff, and grew turnover by 33 per cent in 2016 to £617m, it said. Its recent name change reflects its growth beyond retail into services to sectors such as medicare, banking and property.