Town Centre Securities (LSE:TOWN) was founded by 32 year-old Arnold Ziff in 1959, and it floated on the London market in 1960. A Leeds man, born and bred he had inherited the Stylo shoe business from his father. He knew the city intimately which must have been a great help when it came to ideas for development schemes and negotiating with the powers that be. He and his wife Marjorie became great benefactors, and both of them received recognition from the Queen for their philanthropic work.
They had two sons, Michael (born 1953) and Edward (born 1960), and a daughter, Ann Louise. Michael worked at Stylo and Edward at TOWN.
The Merrion Centre in Leeds has been the bedrock of the company for a long time. The £3m “revolutionary scheme” was opened in 1964, the first of its kind, introducing Leeds to the combination of destination for shopping by day with entertainment and attractions at night.
Edward Ziff, OBE, joined the company when 21 and was appointed to the board in 1985. He became MD in 1983, CEO in 2001 and succeeded his father as Chairman in 2004. He too is dedicated to Leeds, being a prominent philanthropist.
So, this is a family business proud of its inheritance and the contribution it can make to all stakeholders, from the citizens of the cities in which it operates to shareholders. The senior team have decades of experience, a network of influential friends and contacts and a reputation for reliability and commitment to Leeds and Manchester.
The family still own 51.5% of the shares so other shareholders have little they can do should the family turn against their interests.
Are they likely to turn against private investors? To answer we need to judge their character. I have not met them yet, but I have picked up a few clues through my reading (and there is an excellent Youtube video with Edward being interviewed last December).
Firstly, the family are very generous with time and money to worthy causes, indicating they are not obsessed with piling up money to please their egos, but try to act decently in community.
They pride themselves on good relationships. For example, in the last annual report and the last interim report they attribute the high level of rent collection in these trying times to “Our flexible approach means that we are hands on with our tenants and have built strong relationships with many entrepreneurial businesses, working with them through the cycle….Such long-term relationships have been key during this period, allowing us to understand the changing needs of tenants and share their pain where we can. We worked closely with many tenants to agree payment plans during the peak of the crisis and are now helping to ensure the safe and successful reopening of their businesses. Most tenants have acted responsibly and in good faith in difficult circumstances…The office space is fully let serving a range of smaller and larger tenants including Leeds City Council’s headquarters and we work hard to keep tenants on site and build strong relationships.” (2020 Annual Report)
According to bulletin board writers they make the effort to speak with small shareholders: “The directors were very welcoming and communicative” and “Edward Ziff could not have been more welcoming. He even brought my cup of tea over…I think these sorts of family companies are under the radar of most other investors, but people like us are happy to be part of the family”.
There has been quite a lot of change in non-family executives in the boardroom of late. This may be of concern - I don't know - but continuity is provided by family members (and there does not seem to be animosity from the departing directors)
Stewart MacNeil, FD.
Appointed to a permanent position in June this year, he had been acting Interim Chief Financial Officer since February 2021 following the sudden departure of the previous FD.
He spent the bulk of his professional career at LXB Properties, the real estate investment company which focused on edge of town and out of town retail assets, and most recently worked at a small development consultancy business. A Cambridge graduate and a Fellow of the ICAEW.
Son of Edward, he joined the company in 2008, becoming MD of Citipark in 2009 and appointed to the board in 2015. While he has a wider knowledge and perspective across the business he concentrates on Citipark and constantly examines the potential of new technology and new ways of doing business. He led the acquisitions programme which has doubled the size of the car park division. He also heads TCS Energy, founded in 2012, which pursues renewable energy production and storage. Ben led the investment in the app company YourParkingSpace.co.uk.
Michael Ziff, NED
Michael Ziff headed the Stylo/Barratt/Priceless
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Prof. Glen Arnold
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