Leeds v-c makes a million

November 28, 1997

THESALE of a thriving university company to a United States firm has netted its founder, Leeds University vice chancellor Alan Wilson, close to Pounds 1 million.

Financial details of the deal disposing of GMAP Ltd, which specialises in human geographic modelling, have not been disclosed but it is understood that the university, which was the majority shareholder, gets Pounds 3 million.

Professor Wilson and co-founder Martin Clarke will each receive an initial Pounds 750,000 from the sale plus likely further payments of Pounds 180,000 for the company, which has grown fivefold since its launch in 1990.

The deal splits the company in two with the automotive business being transferred to RL Polk and Co, a US-based service firm for the motor vehicle sector.

The move has been approved by the university's governing council. Professor Clarke, chief executive of GMAP and also a Leeds academic, said that the sale had been an emotional wrench but it made commercial sense for the clients, staff and shareholders.

"GMAP was going global and that required a substantial investment that the university was not prepared to make," he said. "It was time to let go."

A new GMAP will trade as an independent company which Professor Clarke hopes will mirror the growth achieved by the original GMAP. It began with no staff and now employs 110 with a turnover of Pounds 5 million.

The company, built on research on human geographic modelling begun in the 1970s, has proved irresistible to GMAP's blue chip clients, who now include Toyota, Ford, BP, W. H. Smith, Mobil, Barclays Bank and SmithKline Beecham.

One of the company's first jobs was to calculate the average length of garden paths for the Post Office. Now Professor Clarke advises high street banks on the best locations for their businesses. His lucrative crystal ball consists of sophisticated mathematical models which replicate the way consumers behave.

Computer models of cities can now be developed predicting where people will live and work and most important, where they will shop and what they will buy. Predictions are correct to within plus or minus 5 per cent, according to Professor Clarke.

Professor Wilson, who taught Professor Clarke as a Leeds undergraduate 20 years ago, said the pair had always had grand ambitions because they believed in the commercial potential of their product.

It had been a struggle in the early days when there was no capital and no clients and all the work had to be done in their spare time.

"Considering their intellectual capacity large universities ought to have 20 GMAPs, but it is so difficult to make the jump from academic to entrepreneur," Professor Wilson said.

Next week: Making a million

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