Imperial Chemical Industries

From Academic Kids

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ICI's logo. Usage restricted.
Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) is a British chemical company, based in London. It produces paints and specialty products (including ingredients for foods, specialty polymers, electronic materials, fragrances and flavours). It employs around 35,000 people and had a turnover of just over 5.6 billion in 2004.

For much of the 20th century ICI was generally regarded as the leading company in the United Kingdom. The phrase "the chairman of ICI" became a British colloquialism for the top person in British business. However ICI's status has fallen steadily in recent decades, and its unique prestige is now completely dissipated. Today ICI is simply a medium sized player in the global chemical industry, which is an unfashionable industry with low margins and poor growth prospects. It is now one of the smaller constituents of the FTSE 100 Index, much smaller than its own offspring AstraZeneca.


ICI was founded in December 1926 from the merger of four companies - Brunner Mond, Nobel Explosives, the United Alkali Company and British Dyestuffs Corporation. Competing with DuPont and IG Farben (later BASF), the new company produced explosives, fertilisers, insecticides, dyestuffs, industrial chemicals, printing materials, and paints. In its first year turnover was 27m.

ICI played a key role in the development of new products, including the pigment phthalocyanine (1929), the acrylic plastic Perspex (1932), Dulux paints (1932, co-developed with DuPont), Polythene (1937), sulfamethazine (the first sulfonamide antibiotic), paludrine (1940s, an anti-malarial drug), halothane (1951, an anaesthetic agent), Inderal (1965, a beta-blocker), and tamoxifen (1978, a frequently used drug for breast cancer). Because of their success in the pharmaceutical industry, ICI formed ICI Pharmaceuticals in 1957.

In 1993 however the company decided to demerge its chemical business from the pharmaceutical bioscience divisions. Pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, specialities, seeds and biological products were placed into a new and independent company called Zeneca Group (which merged with Astra AB in 1999 to form AstraZeneca plc, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world). The company also moved away from bulk and industrial chemicals towards specialty chemicals during the 1990s in the hope making its income less dependent on the business cycle, earning higher profit margins, and developing businesses with long term growth potential. However its financial performance so far in the 21st century has been erratic.

ICI sold its Australian subsidiary, ICI Australia, in 1997 and the following year it changed its name to Orica.

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