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Acquaintance of Greg Norman and Muhammad Ali discusses his business in Gloucestershire

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Written by:   | Posted 30-July-2014 11:09

Acquaintance of Greg Norman and Muhammad Ali discusses his business in Gloucestershire

Manager and best man to golfing legend Greg Norman and twin brother of the producer of a film starring Muhammad Ali, James Marshall’s life in business has been both exotic and varied, writes Rupert Janisch.

Entrepreneur, international licensing expert and one-time docker and lumberjack, he is currently the owner of Metalwash Ltd, a successful business based in Aston Down near Minchinhampton.

The company supplies specialised cleaning equipment on a service rental basis to companies such as Siemens, Tesco, M.A.N. and Scania.

The recent launch of a subsidiary company called Metalwash Launderette – a mobile service aimed at smaller operators – reflects Mr Marshall’s entrepreneurial spirit which has meant that, over more than 50 years in business, he has rarely sat still.

Now aged 80, Mr Marshall was born in West Yorkshire and attended Ampleforth College before serving in the Army, seeing active service in the conflict in Malaysia during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Upon leaving the Army, he followed his father into banking. But he “hated every minute of it” and emigrated from the UK to Canada, where he worked as a labourer on the DEW Line of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region, as well as stints as a docker and a lumberjack.

He returned to England briefly but soon found himself back across the Pond, working in marketing in New York City, with a lawyer business partner. Together they worked on international licensing projects, structuring and negotiating joint ventures and licensing agreements around the world, with clients including Quaker Oats and household products firm Reckitt and Coleman.

Such entrepreneurial spirit left Mr Marshall well-placed to take advantage of major business opportunities, such as the breakdown of Rolls Royce in 1971.

He saw an opportunity to acquire two of Rolls Royce’s companies in Avonmouth and he put together a group which was called Rolls Royce Composite Engineering.

“I then bought the companies from Rolls Royce and it was renamed Bristol Composite Engineering. It was later sold to BP,” he said.

During his time with Bristol Composite Engineering, Mr Marshall had formed a joint venture in Australia. A keen amateur golfer, he was playing a round with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson during a trip there in 1976 when he was introduced to a young up-and-coming player by the name of Greg Norman.

“He had just won his first professional tournament in Adelaide,” said Mr Marshall, “and he needed a manager, so he asked me.

“I set him on the path and we made some very good deals. It was a great time and it was doing something I really loved.

“It involved structuring and negotiating deals around him, arranging endorsements of products and sponsorship agreements. I was also best man at his first wedding in 1981. We were on a flight together in America when he took a fancy to an air stewardess. Her name was Laura Andrassy; I got her to come and sit next to him.”

One of his many other associations with celebrities and the rich and famous came in 1977 when Mr Marshall’s twin brother John was the producer for a film called The Greatest, which starred Muhammad Ali and covered the great boxer’s life from 1960 to 1976.

And it was during another spell in Australia that the idea for Metalwash was born.

“A friend of mine had suggested that we looked into an organisation which supplied metal washing machines to the workshops of car companies. I thought it would be interesting if we could take them into the trucking industry and the workshops of after-servicing and aftersales and make them available on service rental.”

As a result, Metalwash Limited (metalwash.co.uk) was established in 1995 and now has service depots in Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Bedfordshire.

“When I came back to England, I began to look at what cleaning machine manufacturers were in operation. I had been told by the Australians that it was a proprietary, patented system but I soon discovered that wasn’t correct – my knowledge of licensing came in well there.

“So I set about finding a company with which we could work who made these machines; we started off initially with a Dutch firm and moved on from there.”

Over the years, Mr Marshall has launched other innovative ideas as diverse as the lightweight “trombone” golf trolley and a unique folding chopping board.

Now living with his wife Lois just a few minutes’ drive from his company’s head office, he said the entrepreneurial spirit is something which is different from the mind of an inventor.

“Developing a product is tough enough, but everyone underestimates the difficulty of marketing a product effectively,” he said.

“Getting the pig to market is more difficult than actually producing it and there are many great ideas which have never seen the light of day.

“Often the inventor has a tremendous ego that he’s not only going to invent it but he’s going to manufacture and market is as well. It’s a major mistake.”

Pictured: (Top) James Marshall with Muhammad Ali, with Greg Norman  and with Michele Turley, of Metalwash Ltd.

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