Business

Prominent family investment group sees head depart, rebrands

Graham Ramsbottom is stepping down as chief executive of Wheatsheaf Group, the agricultural technology specialist owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate.

He will leave Wheatsheaf at the end of the year following losses which are never welcome, but far from uncommon, in early-stage venture capital.

Grosvenor retains faith in his entire executive team Anthony James, Katrin Burt, Monty Bayer, Peter Kristensen and Stephan Dolezalek who will run the business as a collective.

Wheatsheaf will be renamed Grosvenor Food & AgTech. 

Grosvenor’s chief executive Mark Preston joined the Wheatsheaf board in 2017. He remains an enthusiastic backer of its mission to develop food technology that benefits the environment, health and productivity: “We are committed to deploying significant new capital to grow the business.”

Ramsbottom created the business, and developed it, over ten years and Grosvenor is grateful. But Wheatsheaf’s prospects have become more material and greater scrutiny from Grosvenor has become inevitable. 

In August, Ramsbottom himself told Family Capital the time was approaching for Wheatsheaf to scale up its business, possibly by co-investing with other family offices.

Wheatsheaf filed its accounts for calendar 2020 at Companies House the following month.

They confirmed increased operating losses of £49 million, against losses of £36 million in 2019. Pre-tax losses were £33 million, compared to a prior year £47 million.

Wheatsheaf had to deal with Covid-19 during the period as well as higher administrative charges. A spokesman for Grosvenor said of its losses: “Venture businesses typically capture negative realisations early on, and don’t write up other investments until later. The losses are immaterial in the overall scope of the business and Graham’s departure has nothing to do with this.” 

Several Wheatsheaf businesses already offer considerable potential – such as vertical food company AeroFarms, insect protein firm Enterra and breeding group Vytelle.

This week, Wheatsheaf participated in a round for Dublin-based biotech group, Nuritas. In September, Wheatsheaf participated in a $13 million Viyella funding round led by US agtech inventors like Open Prairie and Fulcrum Capital. In November it backed a $45 million fund raiser for Nuritas, dedicated to the discovery of plant-based peptides, a form of protein, capable of re-shaping how food production. The funding was led by venture fund Cleveland Avenue run by Don Thompson, former CEO of food chain McDonald’s, and his wife Liz. 

Wheatsheaf made six new investments during 2020 and supplied capital to twelve others. 

Capital outlays factored in its results and the group said its strategy meant it was likely to account for further losses in the short term. But less than 20% of available funds totalling £104 million in December 2020 comprised committed expenditure.  Net assets, after liabilities, were £294 million.

Production and trading improved at several companies although provisions of £11.3 million were needed against Ozo Innovations which wants to turn saltwater into disinfectant. Extensive restructuring continued in North America following impairments in 2019.

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