We’ve all had those spoof office calls and when one of Reg Clark’s Rhino Rugby colleagues announced some years ago that “Warner Brothers, Los Angeles are on the line for you”, he naturally suspected a practical joke was in the offing.
As it happened however, the call was real. Director, Clint Eastwood, was beginning to put together the pieces of the movie which would eventually become Invictus and the Warner Brothers technical staff were in the process of ensuring they had the right to reproduce the image of Ellis Park, the stadium that hosted the Rugby World Cup Final in 1995 in its entirety.
Rhino Rugby had supplied training equipment to the teams and the pitch kits for the stadiums for the 1995 tournament, as they had at Twickenham in 1991 and accordingly, Warner Brothers wanted to reproduce the Rhino branding at the foot of the goalposts for certain action shots. Clark consented and cheekily scribbled on the bottom of the consent fax “agreed if you give us six tickets to the Premier of the film”.
“Whenever anyone asks me what my biggest surprise has been since taking over Rhino in 2006, my answer has to be meeting Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood with my colleagues on the red carpet in Leicester Square at the Premier of Invictus - it was a truly surreal moment,” said Clark.
It was this particular part of Rhino’s history with past Rugby World Cups which sprung to mind when it was suggested to Clark that Rhino might want to take a Rugby World Cup 2015 licence for protective products.
“It seemed to me that it was time for us to re-engage as a brand with the Rugby World Cup, even in a relatively modest way,” he added.
“Rhino has maintained its role over the years as the world’s leading supplier of contact and training equipment for rugby - eight of the teams participating in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 1987 prepared by practising on the original Rhino Powerhouse scrum machine - and we are really pleased and proud to be an Official Licensee for protective and training products for this tournament.”
Following a City career with Swiss Bank Corporation and JP Morgan and a 10-year spell as European Finance Director of Japanese multinational Kobe Steel, Clark was specialising as an advisor to an investor in the SME sector prior to taking on Rhino.
Clark first invested in Rhino in 1988, when together with the legendary Lions, England and Rosslyn Park Number 8 Andy Ripley, he put together a deal to incorporate the business and raise funds via the Business Expansion Scheme, a forerunner of EIS. Ripley remained chairman of Rhino until late 2006 when Clark took over the business in a management buy-in with the Rugby World Cup winning captain, Martin Johnson.
Under Clark and Johnson, who was a director of the business until taking the England RFU manager role in 2008 – he remains a significant shareholder and adviser -- Rhino has expanded rapidly since, mostly through geographical and product licensing programmes.
Licensees are in place in the teamwear, leisurewear, artificial turf and male grooming product areas with licensees selling the full range of Rhino products in the Americas, Ireland, France, South Africa, South East Asia, Australia and Japan.
The company additionally acquired its friendly rival, Powa Products, in New Zealand, with the group now styled as Rhino-Powa Holdings.
“We have achieved all of this with a lot of hard work and relatively small amounts of working capital,” commented Clark. “We decided recently to consolidate our financial position and fund further expansion by issuing a retail or mini bond.”
Retail bonds, which enable a company to raise funds directly from their customers, clients and supporters have expanded rapidly in recent years. In the sporting sector Lancashire County Cricket Club and most recently Wasps RFC have raised funds via this route, as have companies in the cosmetics, brewing, furniture, tourism and restaurant sectors.
“We continue to be offered all sorts of opportunities which we would like to have the financial fire power to consider going ahead with and we would like to put further resource behind our existing operations,” said Clark. “Issuing this bond has been something of an adventure for a small company such as ourselves and we have been very pleased by the reception to it so far.”
Rhino Rugby Bonds, which were launched on 24 July, reached their minimum subscription level within 10 days, and the issue is scheduled to close at 1pm on 18 September.
Minimum subscription is £2,000 -- the bonds are not traded and non transferable and mature on 30 September 2020.