Optical Express founder to take on debts to RBS

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THE FOUNDER of Optical Express has stepped in to save the firm from its biggest creditor.

David Moulsdale is today expected to take on the firm’s debts to Royal Bank of Scotland, and has also agreed to “inject significant working capital” to ensure the company’s survival.

Optical Express, which has 93 stores and 54 consultation centres across the UK and Ireland, owes RBS around £30m, according to the Sunday Times.

“We anticipate completing the transaction by Monday morning, however it is business as usual in all of our stores and clinics as we work through the final documentation,” said a spokesperson for Moulsdale yesterday.

RBS is believed to have turned down Optical Express’ request for an emergency loan needed to pay its staff last week.

The rescue deal saves around 1,600 British and Irish jobs at the chain, which was set up by Moulsdale in 1991. Optical Express did not disclose how much today’s package is worth.

In its most recent accounts, Optical Express blamed “the significant economy slowdown on the high street and in consumer confidence” for a six per cent drop in revenues to £17.1m and pre-tax profits down by half to £1.2m in 2011.

In October last year, the company closed 40 of its stores after it put one of its subsidiaries into administration.

The firm offers eye tests and glasses as well as laser eye surgery and dentistry. It also offers its services in the United States and the Netherlands.

David Moulsdale, the son of a Glasgow taxi driver, launched Optical Express in 1991 with a single store in Edinburgh – but he always had his eye on growth.

He steered the firm through rapid expansion, buying 11 established stores in Scotland in 1995 and entering the English market a few years later by snapping up 63 shops.

His ambitious plans attracted attention, and in 1998 he became one of the youngest ever recipients of the Scottish Business Achievement Award. A year later, he was named Scotland’s most eligible bachelor by Scotland on Sunday.

In 2002 Moulsdale moved the company into refractive surgery, buying seven existing clinics across the country.

International expansion soon followed, first in the Netherlands in 2004 and later throughout Europe and across the pond.

Last year he added former first minister of Scotland Jack McConnell and former PwC Scotland executive chairman Frank Blin to the board.

Away from Optical Express, he spends a lot of time on philanthropic projects. He served as chairman of the Royal National Institute of the Blind from 2001 to 2004, funding the construction of a facility to train blind or partially sighted people in skills for work. The building was named Moulsdale House.

His Moulsdale Foundation aims to help children around the world with sight problems.

He also sat on the board of trustees for the Kelvingrove museum in Glasgow during its renovation.