The family who owned Kidderminster carpet-maker Brintons for more than two centuries claim the historic firm was “pulled from under their feet” by US private equity giant Carlyle.
For 228 years Brintons has been synonymous with carpet-making in the town, with eight generations of the Brinton dynasty holding shares in the business which has provided carpets for Buckingham Palace and the White House.
But the era of family involvement came to an acrimonious end after the firm was taken over by American Carlyle Group, which bought the loss-making company in a £40 million deal.
The chairman of the Brinton’s family council has spoken out in the wake of the buyout, saying the deal went through without the consent of the family shareholders, who have lost their investment.
Guy Burnell, the son-in-law of ex-chairman Michael Brinton, accused the Carlyle Group of engineering the takeover in a way which sidelined the Brinton family.
“We’ve been disenfranchised and pushed to one side,” he said. “They’ve been trying to engineer a solution which doesn’t involve us.”
“It was taken from under our feet without our consent,” he added.
But Don Coates, Brintons managing director, said the deal with Carlyle was vital to secure the future of the firm, which employs 700 people in the West Midlands and a further 1,000 globally.
He said: “The business would not have survived without this transaction.
“Carlyle’s investment brings an end to a long period of uncertainty and we are delighted to be moving forward with confidence.
“Our priority has been ensuring the survival of the company so we can continue to serve our customers in supplying premium quality carpets and return to business as usual.”
Prior to the deal the family owned 95 per cent of the firm, Mr Burnell said, although they have not been involved with the day-to-day running of the business since 2008.
The firm has been in dire financial straights since the downturn, and in August this year Carlyle Group acquired the secured debt of the business from Lloyds Bank.
At the beginning of September Brintons was then sold back to Carlyle in a prepack administration – a practice where a buyer is lined up before the insolvency process starts.
The deal saw Carlyle wipe out £20 million of debt and guarantee a further £20 million of investment
But Mr Burnell raised questions about the timing of the deal.
“It’s interesting they chose to do it 24 hours before we had a general meeting which would have forced them to come to us to approve the deal,” he said.
Mr Burnell said the family had called the general meeting to be held on September 6, where they planned to vote on changing the articles of the company so that shareholders could have a say on the sale or transfer of the business.
But the meeting never happened, as the deal was announced on September 5and by that time they were powerless to change anything.
“Miraculously, or by coincidence, the administration went through 24 hours before the meeting,” said Mr Burnell.
“In fact some shareholders even went to the meeting. The irony is it wasn’t about the deal – it was about the principle of whether we had the right to approve it.”
Mr Burnell was also critical of the way Brintons had been run since the family stepped away, questioning the wisdom of its investment in a factory in China in the midst of the downturn.
He said he wished the company well under the control of Carlyle Group – adding he was speaking out as he wanted to tell the family’s side of the story.
“I’m not against the company as there are employees that have been very loyal to us and I hope it survives," he added.
“But there are some employees going around thinking either we’re loaded or are responsible for it.
“Neither of those things are true and we don’t want them to feel that.
“We want to see carpets manufactured in Kidderminster and other parts of the world in another 200 years time."
Ian Jackson, director of Carlyle Strategic Partners, Carlyle’s turnaround fund, said: “We are delighted to invest in Brintons, a global brand with a long heritage that is recognised for its quality, design and unique technology.
“Carlyle has a strong track record of managing and investing in companies in this position and we look forward to supporting Brintons’ management team to facilitate international expansion and enable the company to reach its full potential.”