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From providing pilots for WWII to cutting-edge tech in Cambridge – a family business restructures

Family-owned Marshall Group of the UK is out to focus on its core interests by buying a car dealership, a month after spinning off tech investor Martlet Capital.

The company’s drive back to the old economy follows a board restructuring, which led to the appointment of Kathy Jenkins as its first non-family chief executive in April.

Martlet’s investments comprise stakes in more than sixty UK ventures devoted to deep technology and life sciences opportunities

Family member Robert Marshall will stay on as Martlet’s chairman, after winning commitments from other investors interested in tapping his extensive network of contacts in the Cambridge ecosystem.

On 15 October, Marshall drove deeper into the old economy by paying £64.5 million, in cash, for Motorline, a dealership run by the Obee family, which operates 48 franchises with car makers like Toyota and Lexus. 

Marshall Motors, a listed company 65% owned by Marshall Group, has become one of the UK’s top motor dealerships. But the company, founded in 1909, is best known as an engineering and defence contractor, Marshall of Cambridge (Holdings). 

It trained more than 20,000 pilots during the Second World War and rebuilt more than 5,000 damaged aircraft. It worked on a stream of defence contracts in later years, earning renown for designing Concorde’s pointed nose which dipped on landing. A civil aircraft division was sold earlier this year.

Marshall owns commercial property and 900 acres of development land near Cambridge airport newly designated for development.

To keep its interest in tech ventures alive, the company has launched Futureworx to develop technology and climate change solutions.  

In the half-year to June the company came out of Covid by producing profits of £59.6 million from turnover of £1.5 billion. Non-voting preference shares in the group can be traded on a potential discount to assets through broker James Sharp & Co.

Charlie Marshall has kept the family flag flying as non-executive director. He started and sold a food venture called Primal Soup and runs Loaf, a soft furniture company. 

Martlet’s creation in 2011 was initially backed by Marshall chief executive Sir Michael Marshall, who died in 2019. It was championed by his son Robert, who served as Marshall CEO between 2012 and 2019. 

Martlet’s investments comprise stakes in more than sixty UK ventures devoted to deep technology and life sciences opportunities. One of them, SyndicateRoom, ferrets out new ventures on its own account. Seven have exited.

Marlet specialises in tech ventures in Cambridge. It has set up a new fund called MarQuity to invest in ventures from inception to exit. 

Following the Marshall spin off, Martlet has won backing from Saranac Partners set up by Tom Kalaris, former chief executive of Barclays Wealth. Kalaris stepped away in 2016, but remained a shareholder in Saranac which provides advice to family offices and other investors on how to allocate their capital.

Martlet has also won support from EMV Capital subsidiary NetScientific, led by Ilian Iliev, founder of data provider Cambridge IP, who once ran a family business in the electrical trade in South Africa.

Cash invested by EMV and Saranac will provide Martlet with £12 million to invest. It has plans to raise another £10 million. The sums raised will be invested in tech-drive ventures. Saranac and NetScientific have agreed to invest in the MarQuity fund.  

Robert Marshall will continue to serve as executive chairman at Martlet. In a statement, he said: “Martlet Capital will continue to be an important seed stage investor in the Cambridge deep tech start-up ecosystem.” 

His managing director Paul Bailey, co-founder of Bailey Fisher Executive Search, joined Martlet in 2019. Startup veteran Peter Cowley, co-founder of Marlet, has retired. The company is relatively small compared to Marshall but remains influential in the Cambridge venture community. 

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