Last month Norton Motorcycles was put into administration, which is more or less equivalent to US Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Norton has millions of British Pound debt amongst which around £300k of unpaid taxes.
As the administration is progressing, yesterday, the Guardian posted an article stating that the British parliament has asked to investigate the government’s funding of Norton Motorcycles and has accused officials of “blindly pouring” millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the motorbike firm before it went bust.
In summary, Norton received millions of pounds in loans and grants from the British Government and associated organisations. On top of that some government officials publicly endorsed the company.
Stuart Garner, a British entrepreneur, ‘saved’ Norton in 2008 from US hands, which at that time had stopped manufacturing motorcycles all together. He did this with the intention to restore this piece of British history (founded in 1898, yes… this is not a typo) to former glory, so he claimed.
If you’re interested in the details please see the Guardian Article. What I want to do here is offer some perspective and room for discussion.
The role of the government
First, let’s talk about the role of the government: So yes, it’s true that they pumped millions into Norton over the years. The Guardian article depicts this as blind mistakes, not having done enough research in the viability of the company. Even if that’s true, the real question is why, isn’t it? Please allow me to offer some potential answers to that question:
- Government officials saw a British icon company in trouble and wanted to help save this piece of British history. This wouldn’t be the first time a government does this. For example, Dutch government also helped iconic Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker in the late 90’s.
- There was an ‘agreement’ between Stuart Gardner and some of the involved government officials.
- A combination of the above.
The role of Stuart Garner
Stuart Garner is an interesting man to say the least. Before Norton he was already a successful entrepreneur owning Britains most successful pyrotechnics company. Here’s a 2015 interview with Garner, which took place in the 2012 purchased Norton’s headquarters “Donington Hall”.
In the Guardian article the role of Stuart Garner is questioned. It depicts him somewhat as a villain, who shoved too much money his own way in stead of trying to rescue the company. There’s talk of Norton lending £160k to Garner personally and £325k to another company of Garner. And there are some questions about Norton’s luxury car collection worth £800k and, most significantly, there is an open question about the £14 million fraude with the pension fund, who Garner claims he was also a victim of.
So the question arrises… were Garner’s intentions true in trying to save the motorcycle company in 2008, or was it all a farce from the beginning? Or, did he really try and after a while decide it was a waste of time and money, cutting his ‘losses’? Or, did he really try until the end to make it work?
The only one who truly knows the answer to those questions is Garner himself of course… and unless you have the opportunity to talk to him directly, the only thing you can form an opinion on is press articles. My personal opinion WAS: Garner tried to make it work, but eventually saw it was an uphill battle. And then it becomes a question of moral… how far should he go to try and make it work? Did he already know it was a lost battle before accepting government loans and grants, or did he accept the loans and grants hoping it would pull Norton through?
I’m saying WAS above, because after writing this article news came to light where Garner did not show up for a hearing regarding the claims laid against him in relation to the Pension Fund: Garner doesn’t show up at pension fund hearing. This sure calls Garner’s intentions and ethics in question. Maybe he was not interested in saving Norton after all, and just saw it as a ‘vehicle’ to enrich himself.
Whatever the case may be and regardless of what the investigations conclude, it is a true shame that a 122 year old iconic brand has to come to an end like this.