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The enlarged company will be run by new chief executive Chris Thomson, former chief executive of menswear retailers Austin Reed, and venture capitalists 3i are now the majority shareholders in the company.

Bill Weston has acquired his brother's shares, but new capital investment to fund the international expansion of the business has diluted the influence of Christopher Weston's previously overwhelming 96 per cent shareholding.

The Bank of Scotland is the other major provider of finance for the new Phillips group.

However, Bill Weston joins the Phillips board and will play an active role in the company, continuing a family connection with Phillips which began with his uncle Robert Hawkings in the 1930s.

He will concentrate on the development of his own specialised financial auction firm Foster and Cranfield as part of the larger Phillips group.

The fine art side of Phillips' auction business will remain in the hands of managing director Roger Hollest, who summed up the nature of the new Phillips as a marriage of expertise in "intangibles" (life policies and reversionary interests) and "movables", though he emphasised that his side of Phillips' business will not necessarily be confining itself to the traditional categories of fine and applied arts in the future.

Overall management of the new capital base in the expanding company will be in the hands of the new chief executive, who foresees a series of "judicious acquisitions" en route to a dominant postion worldwide in the "upper-middle market"

He believes that as a large international company Phillips will be able to offer clients advantages not open to smaller businesses. He said that there was no intention of competing with Sotheby's and Christie's at the top end of the market.

He stressed that 3i were not looking for an early exit from their investment, saying that, on the contrary, 3i had been chosen from a number of competing offers because they were prepared to take a medium to long view and had a reputation of sticking with existing successful management teams. However investors will be expecting a substantial return on their captital and Chris Thomson acknowledged that every aspect of the Phillips operation would need to be reviewed to ensure that it was fulfilling a useful role in the overall strategy.

But he was adamant that the new management had no plans for cutbacks. "Very few businesses downsize to greatness," he said. "Our aim is to grow and develop. We already have an abundance of skills within the company. We need these skills to be commercially successful and our plans will allow existing staff to develop into new areas."

He added that the obvious loyalty of the existing workforce was one of the company's best assets and that the new investment presented individual opportunities that had not existed while expansion was limited by the smaller resources of a single private owner.

He said that he already saw many parallels between the auction business and that part of the retail sector where he had most experience.

"Both businesses are all about providing a service to customers," he said. "Auctioneering is very much a people business and we will be concentrating on providing clients with a personal service."

He said that he saw Phillips as an established brand name which stood for high standards in service and business and which could be extended into new markets in Europe and the USA.