Administrators are battling to find a buyer for historic crystal and china maker Waterford Wedgwood after the collapse of the ailing firm put 2,700 jobs at risk – including more than 600 in North Staffordshire.
The group – best known for Wedgwood pottery, Royal Doulton and Waterford crystal – has appointed receivers to parts of its Irish business and administrators at its UK arm.
Waterford, which can trace its origins back 250 years, collapsed after talks over a possible sale to a US private equity firm failed to bear fruit and lenders’ patience ran out.
Administrator Deloitte said a restructuring could not be achieved “in an acceptable timescale”.
Joint administrator Angus Martin said: “Waterford, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton are quintessentially classic brands that represent a high quality product steeped in history. The administration team will be working with management, customers and suppliers to ensure operations continue whilst a sale of the business is sought.”
The company will trade as a going concern and chief executive David Sculley is “optimistic” a buyer can be found but question marks now hang over the future of staff.
The UK business employs 1,900 retailing and manufacturing staff, including 600 at its manufacturing base in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent.
The Irish arm has 800 staff based in Waterford.
Non-executive chairman Sir Anthony O’Reilly added: “We are consoled only by the fact that everything that could have been done, by management and by the board, to preserve the group, was.”
The collapse comes despite attempts to revive the struggling business since 2005 by majority owners Sir Anthony and Peter John Goulandris. Sir Anthony controls media firm Independent News & Media, owner of the Independent newspaper.
As well as axing thousands, Waterford has embarked on marketing initiatives and launched new products to increase the appeal of its luxury goods – signing up stars such as chef Gordon Ramsay and designer Sir Terence Conran.
It introduced products such as Wedgwood’s Eternity China, much stronger than traditional china and able to stand up to microwaves and dishwashers.
But the firm suffered from funding issues and was weighed by the cost of restructuring. Waterford made a pre-tax loss of €63.2million (£55.9million) in the six months to the beginning of October, and carried net debt of €448million (£422million). The firm was hit by the onset of the financial crisis, with sales in October 19 per cent down on the comparable period in 2007.
Sir Anthony said the board and executives received “remarkable support” to salvage the business from highest levels from the Irish and UK governments and Irish banks.
“The board has acted tirelessly in its efforts to resolve the company’s issues as a going concern,” he added.
Wedgwood was founded in 1759 in Stoke-on-Trent by Josiah Wedgwood, and began making bone china in the 19th century. Crystal maker Waterford was set up in 1783 by brothers William and George Penrose.
In 1986 Waterford acquired Wedgwood to form the present company, listing on the stock exchange and expanding overseas in the 90s.