Newswatch – Lonrho, all-new household name

The company may be little more than a year old but Lonrho Africa is a brand name to envy, as potent a symbol of British colonialism and buccaneering entrepreneurial spirit as you could hope to find.

Led flamboyantly by the late Tiny Rowland, Lonrho grew into a giant conglomerate of about 600 companies in 50 countries until it was split into Lonmin and Lonrho Africa last year. The African part of the equation, which was listed in May 1998, reports its first interim results next Thursday.

Both companies have had to reinvent themselves. While Lonmin, which itself reported impressive interims last week, has emerged as a specialist mining concern, Lonrho Africa is organised into five key areas: motors, agribusiness, distribution, hotels and property.

Already the company has dealt with the thorny issue of how to account for its restructuring. It was able to take advantage of merger accounting rules that limit the impact of goodwill right-offs on profits because it was effectively a group reorganisation. And, with analysts expecting sales to rise by 33% over the course of 1999, next week’s interims should paint a healthy picture.

Probably the best symbol of the company’s rebirth is its flagship hotel, the Norfolk in Nairobi. A name that conjures the exotic allure of early 20th century travel, it is currently being renovated.

It will emerge as a new luxury hotel later this year, retaining the appeal of the past but adding the facilities of the future. Just like the company itself?

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