A brief history of Cayley Chemicals

While on a business trip for my employer, Albright & Wilson, to South Africa I was approached by John Thompson of Chemical & Industrial Marketing. John was the owner of CIM a major South African distributor based in Durban. CIM was the Durban distributor for Akulu Marchon (a 50/50 surfactant company A&W / Chemserve) – John suggested I should start my own business and said he would back me. We moved house & my first child was born (Alicia Mills – shareholder).

A&W announced that in July the company export dept.- CXD would be closed and the staff moved from Whitehaven to Birmingham – those that did not want to move had an option to leave and take redundancy. This opportunity was ideal for me. I took redundancy of about £14k and together with a similar amount of money from CIM started Cayley Chemicals on 1st July 1987. Initially I owned just 10% of the company. We based Cayley in Carlisle.

Setting up a company from scratch was a huge task – I had to learn a lot very fast. In A&W I had the full support of a major company and a wonderful product range and strong market position. Now I was on my own and had to carve out my own position.

One of the biggest problems facing a new business is no credit rating. To overcome this problem John Thompson channelled all his companies overseas purchases through my business allowing us to make a margin of 5% and guaranteed with our suppliers the financial backing and under-writing by CIM. After 2 weeks I took our first order with no CIM involvement – 1,000kgs of Tri Butyl Tin Oxide to Cernol, Zimbabwe – a very scary experience because I had no export documentation experience and also I was betting with a big percentage of the company’s capital. Anyway all went ok – Cernol paid within 30 days and we made £1000.

With limited capital I had to trade very carefully. My first big order was selling 1,000 tonnes of Sulphonic Acid on behalf of Manro UK to Colgate Palmolive, Ndola, Zambia on commission basis. That was my only comm deal – we made just £2.50/tonne, but if I had traded it we would have made 3 times that; so from then onwards we always traded. That year I increased my shareholding in Cayley to 30%.

Our first big break:
Cernol Zimbabwe – Zim companies at that time needed an import licence to import. Cernol was the only company in Zim to get an open general licence and they appointed Cayley to supply all their chemicals from Europe. This was totally fantastic for us. From March 1988 we got orders from Cernol most days. Also most days we received payment from them. It gave us tremendous confidence and we started taking on staff. Derek Harris & Chris Davies joined us from TR International. Derek did a fantastic job securing thousands of tonnes of business for us into Saudi, Bahrain and UAE. Also during 1988 we starting supplying South Africa with Chinese basic chemicals – we did this with the backing of TR Int – they gave us credit.

We moved house to Carlisle & my second child was born (John Mills – Director & shareholder)

The company was now trading very well. Orders every few hours. I increased my shareholding to 40%. I registered CCC Trading Ltd and bid for the 60% of shares held by my original partner John Thompson. I now fully owned Cayley. The legal entity being CCC Trading Ltd but trading as Cayley Chemical Corp. We took on Mike Collins from Meridien Int – a tremendous expert in Nigeria.

We moved the company from Carlisle to Cheltenham and also moved house.

Our second big break:
We started supplying PZ Cussons Nigeria with Sodium Sulphate from Tessenderlo. This was massive business – approaching 20,000 tonnes per annum for 6 years. We moved house again and purchased our office building.

Our third big break:
Esseco – we represented the Italian company in Southern Africa until 2013. Volumes of about 2000 mt/annum. Very good bread & butter business.

We dabbled in several other businesses:…….

  • Property – we build 4 new houses and renovated another four.
  • Farming – we owned 100 acres of prime wheat growing arable farmland.
  • Flowers – we imported Longiflorum lilies from Nairobi.
  • Cars – we exported second hand vehicles to Africa.

Our fourth big break:
David Whitehead textiles Zimbabwe – we supplied most of their raw materials for 5 years

Our fifth big break:
Angola – we supplied their oil industry with over 1200 tonnes per annum of SMBS for 3 years

I would like to pay special tribute to:-

  • John Thompson
    I could not have started the company without John’s encouragement, finance and advise. Thank you John
  • Cernol Zimbabwe
    Especially Dos Santos and Matti Masuku – this great Zimbabwe company got us going.
  • Mike Collins
    Exceptional trader – Thank you Mike.
  • Shelley James
    Company Secretary of CCC Trading Ltd and my assistant – fantastic loyalty, knowledge and work ethic.
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