Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Cork Insolvency Dynasty - The Story of Four Generations of Cork Insolvency Men

I have been looking through some law reports for a paper I am writing on discharge in personal insolvency. By chance I came across a judgment in the early 1970s that reminded me of the long running connection between the Cork family and insolvency law. There have been four generations of Cork men who have been involved in the area. Let's have a brief tour through their respective careers. 

WH Cork - where it all began
The Worshipful Company of Bowyers has the following information on the founder of Cork Gully: "Roger's grandfather, WH Cork, had built up an insolvency practice largely on the provisions trade, in which in the early part of the last century many small operators were driven out of business by the growth of multiple grocers. The key to success according to WH, was the ability to dominate a creditors meeting by force of personality: this he did in style arriving in a Rolls-Royce which, struck fear into his competitors before the meeting had even begun.

In 1935 WH Cork formed a partnership with his newly qualified son Kenneth and another accountant, Harry Gully. After WH's death and a period of war service, Kenneth became the sole owner of the firm and built it up in the 1950s and 1960s to lead the field in the City insolvency work. It handled cases such as the Rolls Razor washing machine company and of Emil Savundra the insurance fraudster."

Sir Kenneth Cork - "the great liquidator"
The chairman of the Cork Report (The Report of the Review Committee, Insolvency Law and Practice. 1982. Cmnd 8558) needs no introduction. A full biographical exposition of Sir Kenneth's life and times can be seen in: Cork, K. Cork on Cork: Sir Kenneth Cork Takes Stock. Macmillan, London. 1988. A couple of additional points can be made however. First, Mr Norman Barrington Cork also played a role in building up Cork Gully after the war but is not so well known to the public or the insolvency profession as his brother. Secondly, in Professor David Graham QC's day (1957-1992) barristers had little training in financial accounting and David will always be grateful to Sir Kenneth for teaching him how to read a balance sheet, particularly from an insolvency point of view.

Sir Roger William Cork  - pictured
A potted biography of Sir Kenneth's son, Sir Roger, is contained in: In re Icknield Development Ltd [1973] 1 W.L.R. 537. This deals with some aspects of his early career and hinges around Sir Roger's experience. Plowman, J notes: 
"Mr. Roger Cork is very junior in his profession. He served four years' articles in the City of London with Messrs. Moore Stephens & Co., passing his final examination in May 1969. During his articles he received a general accountancy training. He was admitted an associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in November 1969, and in the same month joined Messrs. W. H. Cork, Gully & Co., a firm which includes a number of well-known and experienced liquidators, among them Mr. Roger Cork's own father, Mr. Kenneth Cork. Mr. Roger Cork became a partner in his father's firm on April 1, 1971."
There are some interesting passages on judicial perceptions of nepotism in the case. Plowman, J notes:
"Ought an exception to be made in this case? On the one hand, to do so might create a false impression that Mr. Roger Cork was being singled out for favourable treatment because he was the son of his father. On the other hand, I have had evidence, which the registrar did not have, of the impressive and extensive experience which Mr. Roger Cork has had since he joined his present firm in relation to bankruptcies, voluntary liquidations, receiverships and trusteeships of deeds of arrangement, many of them involving considerable sums of money. I am satisfied that Mr. Roger Cork has had sufficient experience of insolvency matters in the last three years or so to match the average chartered accountant's experience of those matters over a considerably longer period, and strictly on his own merits, I propose to appoint him liquidator."
An interesting biography of Sir Roger appears at the Worshipful Company of Bowyers' website:
"Sir Roger Cork died on October the 21st 2002 at the age of 55. He was a expert in corporate insolvency work and an ebullient Lord Mayor of London.

In both his professional and civic careers, Roger followed in the footsteps of his formidable father, Sir Kenneth known as "the great liquidator", who was also Lord Mayor. Their firm, Cork Gully in which Roger became a partner in 1970, was the pre-eminent name in insolvency for four decades, and had its finest hour in the property crash crisis of 1973 to 1975, when it backed the Bank of England to prevent a wide spread collapse of "secondary banks", which had lent heavily in the property sector. A scheme to hold at bay the City creditors of the Stern Group - which was Britain's biggest bankruptcy case - while its properties were sold in an orderly manner became known as "Cork's Dam."

Despite his relative youth, Roger Cork worked alongside his father on their most sensitive assignments. In 1973 he had to go to the High Court to overturn a decision that he was too young, at 25, to be a liquidator to one collapsed property company, Ickfield Development. [see Plowman, J's comments above!!] Roger's style was more approachable that Sir Kenneth's, which verged on frightening; but he could be just as effective.

When the two were appointed joint receivers to the former Fisher Bendix factory on Mersyside, it was Roger who negotiated with Tony Benn, as industry minister, an injection of state cash to keep the plant alive as a workers co-operative. "We have just consented to Roger Cork's rather arrogant conditions for refinancing the company". Harold Wilson told Sir Kenneth over lunch "who is he, your uncle?."

Roger Cork became the 669th Lord Mayor of London in 1996 - his father having held office in 1978-79 - taking as his motto "making Britain ever Greater" and declaring he wanted to "restore the pride in being British". Though his wife Barbara had died of cancer only four months earlier he was tireless in his role as spokesman for the City.

He relished the pageantry of Office, but added elements of informality: his daughters acted as hostesses at Mansion House Parties, at which the guest lists included names such as Sir Cliff Richard and Dame Edna Everidge. Nor was he afraid of controversy, making his views very plain on the inadequacy of London's transport infrastructure.

He raised £1.3 million for cancer research during his mayoral year, not least by completing a sponsored cycle ride from John o' Groats to Lands End. He averaged 75 miles a day, no small achievement for one with the proportions of a City trencherman, and called the experience "the best cure for a hangover."

Roger William Cork was born on March 31st 1947 and was educated at Uppingham. In 1965 he joined the firm of Moore Stephens, where he was articled to the senior partner Hobart Moore, a friend of his father, who told him it was better to make useful mistakes away from the family firm. Roger qualified as an accountant in 1969, and moved to Cork Gully the same year...

In 1980, as Sir Kenneth approached retirement, father and son decided to merge Cork Gully into the larger firm of Coopers & Lybrand. High profile failures such as the De Lorean car project continued to come into their hands, but the merger arrangement was not an entirely happy one. After Sir Kenneth's death in 1991, Roger returned to Moore Stephens where he built up the corporate recovery practice and was a partner from 1994 - 1999. The name of Cork Gully was expunged within Coopers, now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Roger Cork followed his father as Alderman for Tower Ward in 1983, and was Sheriff of the City in 1992-93. An enthusiastic member of many City livery guilds he was a past master of the Bowyer's Company and the World Traders Company. He was president of the Institute of Credit Management. He was knighted in 1997.

Having taken early retirement from business in 1999, Cork remained active in support of the Cancer Research campaign and other medical charities, and in City affairs. In May 2002 he presided as Lord Mayor locum tenens at the unveiling of the Guildhall of a controversial statue of Margaret Thatcher, which had been commissioned for the Palace of Westminster.

Roger Cork enjoyed sailing in the South of France. He married in 1970 Barbara Harper who had been a colleague at Moore Stephens: they had a son, Christopher and two daughters: Melissa and Georgina."

Mr Stephen Cork - the latest Cork
The fourth generation of Cork men who are involved in the insolvency industry is represented by Smith and Williamson's Mr Stephen Cork.  As Mr Cork's website entry notes:
"Stephen follows his Great Grandfather who established the specialist
insolvency firm of Cork Gully and his Uncle Sir Kenneth Cork, Lord
Mayor of London, in advising businesses."
Mr Malcolm Cork was also involved in the insolvency industry but my investigations to date have yet to reveal how and where he sits within the Cork clan. I will amend this blog entry when I have more information. 

Picture Credit: http://www.bowyers.com/history/personalityPics/rogerCork.jpg

6 comments:

Paul Scott said...

I have the honour of being the owner of Rum Rum. The Anderson 22 sailing cruiser that Sir Kenneth and Blondie Hasler used to enjoy.Sir Kenneth bough her in 1979 and she was sold on in 1981, I believe. I would welcome any information relating to their time together.

Richard said...

It's very interesting to see that Sir Roger Cork's youth was considered in court in the early 70's, and he was found to be competent despite that youth. I recall reading in around 1992 (in the IPA journal) that Stephen Cork was thought to be the youngest person to have passed the JIEB exams at the age of 23 I think. So he was clearly following well in his father's footsteps.

The only reason this sticks in my mind 17 years later and a long time out of the insolvency world is that in 1993 I passed the JIEB at the age of 22 and felt compelled to write to the same journal to stake my claim.

rob said...

i understand that malcolm is stephen's father.

Terry said...

Browsing the net and coming accross this article, I remembered when, 41 years ago as a young businessman supplying aircraft draughtsmen to Handley Page Aircraft at Radlett I received that dreaded letter from W M Cork Gully the liquidators. As a lover of aircraft I believed the Jetstream was a great little aeroplane and would have to eventually pull through, as indeed it was and did, but too late for me. I left my contractors in without receiving payment for too long, became bancrupt, left the industry and never recovered from that setback. No fault other than my own poor business decision. Now aged 74, just an old man reminiscing on how things should have been. Terry

Anonymous said...

I am Melissa Cork, daughter of Sir Roger Cork and granddaughter of Sir Kenneth Cork. Malcolm is my fathers cousin and Stephen is Malcolms son. Hope this clears it up.

Paul Scott said...

If you, Melissa, have no recollection of Sir Kenneth's yacht Rum Run then I guess this is the end of the road for this trail of enquiry.

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