Publishing takeover puts Thomson on top in Canada

The huge Thomson business group advanced its aggressive North American expansion on Friday, Jan. 11, winning a seesaw takeover struggle that makes Thomson Newspapers Ltd. of Toronto the largest Canadian newspaper chain.

In the latest in a series of acquisitions of North American publishing and communications interests, Thomson bid $164 million to win control of FP Publications Ltd. The company, previously one of the country's two large chains of newspapers, owned eight dailies, including one of Canada's most reputable journals, the Toronto globe and Mail.

The takeover brings to 127 the number of newspapers owned by Thomson in North America. In Canada, it will increase Thomson circulation by almost 50 percent, to 2.4 million from 1.6 million. The other major newspaper organization, Southam Inc., has 1.1 million circulation.

Large-scale expansion in Canada and the United States in recent years is nothing new to Kenneth Thomson, the 57-year-old Torontonian who directs the sprawling empire built by his father, the late Roy Thomson, who was renowned as Lord Thomson of Fleet.

The Holdings of the Thomson family now include large investments in publishing, retailing, and oil and gas, much of it in Britain. But the quiet-spoken Kenneth, who spurns the British House of Lords frequented by his colorful father in favor of a low-profile existence in Canada, has been for most of the past decade steadily directing investment to North America.

His successful bid for FP Publications ended a tumultuous, six-week takeover struggle. It pitted Mr. Thomson against two of Canada's most powerful businessmen, Conrad Black, chairman of the giant Argus Corporation Ltd. of Toronto, and R. Howard Webster, a wealthy Montreal financier who bought the Globe and Mail in 1955.

Mr. Black, who began the bidding war in December with an offer of about $100 million for FP, dropped out when Thomson made its first offer in early January.

But Mr. Webster battled Thomson ot the end, making a final offer of $163 million only 20 minutes before his offer expired Friday evening. However, a Thomson executive, who was sitting with some of the FP owners when Mr. Webster's final bid was phoned in to a Toronto hotel room, quickly upped the Thomson offer to clinch the takeover.

This was the second dramatic victory by Thomson in Canada in less than a year. Last April, the organization outmaneuvered other prominent business interests to gain control, at a cost of $640 million, of the massive Hudson's Bay Company retail chain.

Using profits from lucrative North Sea oil field holdings, Mr. Thomson has been recently seeking investment opportunities in North America, both in publishing and other ventures. Since 1970, almost 70 percent of the company's acquisitions have been in the US.

International Thomson Organisation Ltd., a Toronto-based holding company, has sought to make Thomson a leading North American publishing and communications business.

Its purchases include Research Publications Inc., a US microfilming company; Wadsworth Inc. of San Francisco, a college textbook publisher; and 21 natural gas producing wells in Mississippi. Thomson has also been interested in Unitours Ltd. of California and Chilton Company of Philadelphia, a publisher of business magazines.

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