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Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) is a Britishmarker chemical subsidiary of a Dutchmarker conglomerate and one of the largest chemical producers in the world. It is based in Sloughmarker, UK. It produces paints and speciality products (including ingredients for foods, specialty polymers, electronic materials, fragrances and flavours). It employs around 29,000 people and had a turnover of just over £4.8 billion in 2006. The Company was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but since January 2008 it has been a subsidiary of Dutchmarker chemicals group Akzo Nobel, which is in the process of fully integrating the two companies.


Development of the business

The Company was founded in December 1926 by way of the merger of four companies — Brunner Mond, Nobel Explosives, the United Alkali Company, and British Dyestuffs Corporation. It established its Head Office at Millbankmarker in Londonmarker in 1928.

Competing with DuPont and IG Farben, the new company produced chemicals, explosives, fertilisers, insecticides, dyestuffs, non-ferrous metals, and paints. In its first year turnover was £27m.

In the 1920s and '30s the Company played a key role in the development of new chemical products, including the dyestuff phthalocyanine (1929), the acrylic plastic Perspex (1932), Dulux paints (1932, co-developed with DuPont), polyethylene (1937) and Polyethylene terephthalate fibre known as Terylene (1941).

ICI also owned the Sunbeam motorcycle business, which had come with Nobel Industries, and continued to build motorcycles until 1937.

In the 1940s and '50s the Company established its pharmaceutical business and developed a number of key products including Paludrine (1940s, an anti-malarial drug), halothane (1951, an anaesthetic agent), Gramoxone (1962, a pesticide), Inderal (1965, a beta-blocker), brodifacoum (a rodenticide) in 1974, tamoxifen (1978, a frequently used drug for breast cancer), and PEEK (1979, a high performance thermoplastic). ICI formed ICI Pharmaceuticals in 1957.During this period ICI was confronted with the nationalisation of its operations in Myanmar on 1. August 1962 as a consequence of the military coup.

ICI developed a fiber in the 1950s known as Crimplene. The Crimplene fibre was brought to America by a California fashion designer, Edith Flagg. Crimplene is a thick, polyester yarn used to make a fabric of the same name. The resulting cloth is heavy, wrinkle-resistant and retains its shape well. Flagg took this fabric to America, and was the very first person to introduce Crimplene (Polyester) to the United States. ICI, during the first two years, gave Flagg huge advertising dollars to popularise the fabric across America.

The Company acquired Atlas Chemicals, a major USmarker competitor in 1971.

During the 1980s (from 1982 to 1987,) the Company was led by the charismatic John Harvey Jones. Under his leadership the Company acquired the Beatrice Chemical Division in 1985 and Glidden Coatings & Resins, a leading paints business in 1986.

In 1991 ICI sold the agricultural and merchandising operations of BritAg and Scottish Agricultural Industries to Norsk Hydromarker.

In 1991, the company successfully fought off a hostile takeover bid from the Hanson plc conglomerate.

In 1993 the company demerged its pharmaceutical bioscience businesses: pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, specialities, seeds and biological products were all transferred into a new and independent company called Zeneca Group (which subsequently merged with Astra AB to form AstraZeneca PLC).

In 1997 ICI acquired National Starch & Chemical, the specialty chemicals business of Unilever for $8bn. This step was part of a strategy to move away from cyclical bulk chemicals and up the value chain to be a higher growth, higher margin business. Later that year it went on to buy Rutz & Huber, a Swissmarker paints business.

Disposals of bulk chemicals businesses at that time included the sale of its Australian subsidiary, ICI Australia, for £1bn in 1997, and of its polyester chemicals business to DuPont for $3bn also in 1997.

Then the following year it bought Acheson, an electronic chemicals business.

In 2000 ICI sold its petroleum business at Teessidemarker and Tioxide, its titanium dioxide subsidiary, to Huntsman Corporation for £1.7bn. It also sold the last of its industrial chemicals businesses to Ineos for £0.3bn.

In 2006 the Company sold Quest Fragrance, its flavours business, to Givaudan, for £1.2bn and Uniqema, its skincare business, to Croda International, for £410m.

Takeover by Akzo Nobel

Dutch firm Akzo Nobel (owner of Crown Berger paints) bid £7.2 billion (€10.66 billion or $14.5 billion US) for ICI in June 2007. An area of concern about a potential deal was ICI's British pension fund, which had future liabilities of more than £9 billion at the time. Regulatory issues in the UK and other markets where Dulux and Crown Paints brands each have significant market share were also a cause for concern for the boards of ICI and Akzo Nobel. In the UK, any combined operation without divestments would have seen Akzo Nobel have a 54% market share in the paint market. The initial bid was rejected by the ICI board and the majority of shareholders. However, a subsequent bid for £8 billion (€11.82 billion) was accepted by ICI in August 2007, pending approval by regulators.

As of 8.00am on 2 January 2008 ICI PLC became a subsidiary of Akzo Nobel NV. Shareholders of ICI received either £6.70 in cash or Akzo Nobel loan notes to the value of £6.70 per 1 nominal ICI share. The adhesives business of ICI was transferred to Henkel as a result of the deal, while Akzo agreed to sell its Crown Paints subsidiary to satisfy the concerns of the European Commissioner for Competition.

The areas of concern regarding the ICI UK pension scheme were addressed by ICI and Akzo.


ICI operated a number of chemical sites around the world. In the UK the main plants were situated as follows:

  • Blackleymarker (in Manchestermarker): ICI used the site to manufacture dyestuffs. The dye business, known as the ICI Dyestuffs Division in the 1960's, went through several reorganizations. Through the years it was combined with other specialty chemicals businesses and became ICI Colours and Fine Chemicals and then ICI Specialties.

See also


  1. ICI: History
  2. Why the BSA badge? A brief History
  3. Profile: Brodifacoum
  4. Page 297 in The State of Myanmar by Robert Taylor 2009
  5. New Chairman of ICI praises planned agenda
  6. Norsk Hydro acquires Britag Industries
  7. Often-ravenous Hanson takes a taste of ICI
  8. Will bad timing spoil ICI's plan to split in two?
  9. National Starch sold to ICI
  10. ICI buys Swiss Paints Group
  11. ICI Australia shares drop sharply
  12. ICI sell off raises $3bn
  13. ICI buys Acheson for $560 million in move to strengthen specialties
  14. Bayer and ICI sell-offs to boost balance sheets
  15. ICI Sells Its Last Industrial Chemical Operations to Ineos
  16. ICI sells flavours business Quest
  17. ICI to slash debts with £410m Uniqema sale
  18. ICI Pension Fund Web Site.
  19. The white heat of new technology
  20. History of Billingham
  21. British Dyestuffs Corporation and ICI
  22. ICI cuts 1,000 jobs
  23. Process Intensification
  24. Japanese firm buys ICI's nitrocellulose business Chemical Week, 22 January 2003
  25. Review sparks fears for future of ICI Paints site
  26. Welwyn Garden City, a town in Hertfordshire

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