Great Universal Stores

From Powerbase
Revision as of 14:17, 17 November 2014 by David (talk | contribs) (Israeli investments)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search


According to an Adbrands profile:

The roots of GUS were first laid down in 1900 when Manchester merchant Abraham Rose founded a mail order business under the name The Universal Stores, selling a wide variety of general goods. The business was incorporated in 1917, and was renamed Great Universal Stores in 1930, a year before it floated on the London Stock Exchange. In the late 1930s, GUS came under the increasing control of Isaac Wolfson, who went on to become a major figure in British commerce as well as the founder of a considerable retailing dynasty. The son of an immigrant cabinet maker in Glasgow, he had joined Great Universal Stores in 1932 as merchandise controller and gradually worked his way up, becoming chairman as well as majority shareholder by 1946. In the years following World War II, Wolfson masterminded a dramatic expansion of the business, buying up numerous other companies, not just mail order businesses such as Kay's or Marshall Ward, but also high street retail chains selling furniture, clothing and other items, as well as the manufacturing businesses which supplied them. At its peak, the group's retail brands included clothing shops Burberrys, The Scotch House, John Temple, Town Tailors, Harry Attwood, Jay's, Vogue Fashion Shops and Whitneys as well as department stores including Bladons and Waring & Gillow. By the early 1960s "Gussie", as the company was known to customers and investors, was Britain's largest retailer with more than 2,200 stores.
Wolfson also turned his attention to overseas markets. His international purchases included South African furniture and home appliances retailer Lewis Stores Group, Wehkamp in Holland, Halens in Sweden and Universal Versand in Austria. Wolfson also invested widely in other projects as diversified as an oil refinery in the Middle East to the Bushmills distillery in Ireland. Most of the profits from all these activities were channelled into charitable foundations and public works. Wolfson's belief was that 'No man should keep more than £100,000. That's enough for any man. The rest should go to charity.' As a result, he was the country's biggest private benefactor throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Although he was also a major lifelong contributor to Jewish causes, much of his charitable giving was directed towards secular education in the United Kingdom, and he became the first figure since Jesus to have colleges named after him at both Oxford and Cambridge University. He was made a baronet in 1962.
Sir Isaac Wolfson passed control of the business on to his son Leonard (later Baron Wolfson of Marylebone) in 1986, and he died five years later in 1991. The late 1980s and early 1990s were marked by increasing profits but declining investment in group businesses. In 1996, Sir Isaac's nephew David took over the business. He had previously been one of Margaret Thatcher's key advisors (services for which he was made Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale) and was the man credited with rescuing high street retailer Next. He quickly made up for the previous ten years of inactivity. His first moves were to force a turnaround of the group's ailing Burberrys division, and to bolster credit rating arm CCN by acquiring US information business TRW Information Systems & Services for £1bn, merging the two companies to form Experian, one of the world's leading suppliers of credit information on consumers, businesses and property.[1]

Israeli investments

According to Haim Hanegbi, Moshe Machover and Akiva Orr wiriting in the New Left Review in 1971:

British capital has... been developing close ties with Israel...British financial interests, led by Sir Isaac Wolfson and Charles Clore, are also major participants. Wolfson is the chairman of Great Universal Stores in Britain, which has a 30 per cent share of GUS Industries (Israel). Wolfson and Clore cooperate with Israel's largest domestic capitalist group, the Mayer Brothers, in real estate in Israel and Africa, and built the only skyscraper in the country, the Shalom tower in Tel Aviv. Wolfson also controls 30% of the major petroleum chain, Paz, which was sold off by Shell under Arab pressure in 1959. Wolfson is also one of the backers of the Israel Corporation, a $30 million company with a minimum subscription of $100,000, which was set up after the June [1967] war to finance industrial development in Israel.[2]

See also

Isaac Wolfson | Leonard Wolfson | Charles Wolfson | David Wolfson | Simon Wolfson Experian | ARG, (Argos and Homebase), Burberry, South African retailer Lewis Group, Littlewoods

Background articles


  1. Adbrands GUS (UK) Profile. Accessed 17 November 2014.
  2. Haim Hanegbi, Moshe Machover and Akiva Orr 'The Class Nature Of Israeli Society' New Left Review I/65, January-February 1971