In 1991, John Rutley and John Cooper, founders of A-Gas International in Bristol, used to swap start-up ideas over their back garden fences. Rutley, then managing director of Rhône-Poulenc UK, and Cooper, then recently resigned chief executive of Chestertons UK, eventually hit upon a winner. They approached Solvay – a multinational plastics and pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer – suggesting it supply gases to them to blend, and repackage and distribute, taking advantage of the newly regulated CFC gas market. Solvay agreed, extracting a commitment from A-Gas to expand into Australia and South Africa where Solvay had little or no presence. In 1996, as margins eroded in the UK and a repayment crisis emerged in South Africa, Solvay demanded immediate payment on AGI’s debt. Finance director, Cooper, negotiated a compromise, with credit periods tightened from a favourable 120 days to 45 days and a four-year window to pay back most of the debt. Back on track, sales shot from £6.2m in 1996 to £12m in 1997.
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