A year of enormous change will be looked back on by the directors of the Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries - known locally as Wolves, like the football club - when their annual results are announced on Wednesday. The year's big event was the £300m purchase of Marston's Brewery in February. The deal, which was 75% debt and 25% equity, added 800 pubs to its portfolio. The challenge for finance director Ralph Findlay was to dovetail the acquired company into the group. The exercise, however, puts a smile on his face. 'We have successfully integrated Marston's into the Wolverhampton business,' he says, but there was another bonus. 'When we acquired Marston's we expected the benefits of integration would be cost savings of £17m, but the figure was eventually £20m,' he adds. There was also a disappointment during the year. Having bid for Morland, another big regional brewery, Findlay watched it slip out of Wolves' hands to go to Greene King, which made an unbeatable offer. The next target is the Mansfield Brewery. Wolves has made an agreed bid of £254m and the technicalities are now being completed. The proposed purchase, again comprising 75% debt and 25% equity, would put another 520 pubs under the Wolves' banner. Findlay expects the deal to produce cost savings of £12m to put in his accounts. He says: 'The year has been unusual. A lot of deals are going on in this industry and you take opportunities when they come.' If Wolves buys Mansfield it will have a mini-empire of 2,200 pubs. 'We are looking forward to making it into a much larger business,' says Findlay. Last year Wolves recorded pre-tax profits of £44.2m on a turnover of £286m. This year's six-month figures were a pre-tax profit of £12.4m on £167m sales. These statistics, however, may not be a reliable pointer to Wednesday's results as they will be distorted by takeover activity. Findlay, whose background is Price Waterhouse, Bass and Geest before becoming Wolves' finance director in May 1996, is likely to face another task. If, as expected, the Mansfield Brewery comes into the fold, he will be involved in a two-year strategic review to assess where the financial axe should fall. But for two years Mansfield's pubs and employees will be safe.
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