Over recent years we have seen many brands that may be considered quintessentially British fall into foreign ownership – Jaguar, Harrods, Cadbury, Manchester United, and now Raleigh. The same is true with other countries’ national brands of course, and UK companies have also acquired some important names. Obviously this is good for the shareholders and the businesses that have stewardship of those brands, or they would not have made the commercial decisions. Does the nationality of ownership adversely affect the brand? Of course there is the possibility that new owners might act foolishly, but that is just as likely with the indigenous ones.
Part of our emotional attachment to brands concerns their history and heritage. It is embedded in their narrative. But these stories do not change – the ongoing story might, that is part of a brand’s evolution – but you can’t kill the history. So, BMW may now own the Mini brand, but they have bought into more; they have bought into the Mini’s heritage – Alec Issigonis, the swinging 60’s, rally wins, the Italian Job. You can’t kill the back story.
Raleigh has a wonderful heritage – a leader in cycle design, exemplifying British engineering; working with steel in Nottingham (and pioneers of composites and carbon fibre); ridden to unique world championship success by Reg Harris. Raleigh’s story is not unique. Great British heritage, but rather than be crushed by economic pressures, the brand survived by shifting manufacture to the far East. Now, it is back and reaping the benefits of the cycle boom and a presence in top-level cycle sport. So, let’s not worry about the ownership – that can change in a heartbeat. The legacy, the heritage, the brand narrative is set in history and will endure.