British intelligence group Hakluyt & Company warned today of a drop in revenues this year after businesses cut back on spying on their rivals in the recession.
But the Mayfair-based firm, which has been described as “a retirement home for ex-MI6 officers” and whose boardroom roll reads like a Who’s Who of the City, said demand for corporate spooks had started to pick up again.
Hakluyt is notorious for spying on environmental campaigners for oil giants including Shell and BP a decade ago. It has close ties to the energy industry — one of its founders was former BP chairman Sir Peter Cazalet.
Since then, MPs have called for an investigation into its activities and relationship with the secret intelligence services. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker tabled parliamentary questions about the group’s dealings as recently as last month.
With swathes of FTSE 100 companies among its clients, Hakluyt has also come under the spotlight for the list of City luminaries which have advised the group, including ex-Vodafone boss Sir Christopher Gent.
Its bulging contacts book has not been enough to shield Hakluyt entirely from the recession, however, with sales expected to slip and margins squeezed during the year to the end of June.
Hakluyt’s deputy managing director Rupert Huxter, formerly Private Secretary to Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandelson, explained: “We were hit by the general economic situation. “A lot of our business is to do with mergers and acquisitions and that side suffered.”
But he said trading had improved in recent months: “We are now back on an upward trend.”
In accounts just filed at Companies House, Hakluyt said it had responded to a slowdown in trading at the start of last year by cutting costs.
Thanks to a strong final six months of 2008, sales climbed by 13 per cent to Ј21.9 million in the 12 months to the end of June last year. Profits were up four per cent to Ј4.8 million and Hakluyt raised its payout to shareholders from 230p a share to 250p.
The company’s best-rewarded director — probably chief executive and ex-MI6 man Keith Craig — was paid Ј850,000.
Hakluyt has a reputation for discreet investigations. It was founded 15 years ago by two former MI6 officers, who named the group after the 16th Century writer and adventurer Richard Hakluyt.
HAKLUYT’S BOARD AND ADVISERS, PAST AND PRESENT
Niall Fitzgerald, chairman: Deputy chairman of Thomson Reuters. Ran Unilever for eight years.
Keith Craig, chief executive: Ex-M16. Joined Hakluyt a decade ago.
Sir William Purves, ex-chairman: Ex-HSBC chairman. Former director of Shell Transport & Trading.
Sir Rod Eddington, ex-adviser: Ex-British Airways chief executive. Left Hakluyt after row over his advisory role to Australian leader Kevin Rudd.
Sir Kieran Prendergast, director: Former under-secretary general for political affairs at the United Nations.
Robert Webb QC, director: ex-general Counsel at British Airways. Current non-executive chairman of BBC Worldwide and non-executive director of the London Stock Exchange.
Mark Getty, director: Of the US oil dynasty. Ex-Hambros and founder of picture agency Getty Images.