Bullish David Murray not ready to take a back seat, despite £759m of debts

SCOTTISH business supremo Sir David Murray, boss of Scotland's largest private company, is adamant that the worst of his troubles are behind him despite his firm having debts of £759 million.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the chairman of Murray International Holdings (MIH), said he now senses that crucial areas of his business have turned the corner. He is adamant that he has no intention of stepping back from the running of his wide-ranging empire which includes property, metals, call centres and Rangers FC.

"Me taking a back seat? No way," said Murray. "I see this period as a great opportunity. Real fortunes are made in recessions, not in boom times. I'm not going to close my head office and move to Hungary. I'm here to stay whether you like it or not."

MIH employs 3,300 staff in total and has a turnover of more than 500 million, but its debts have soared in recent times. Despite its financial woes, Murray said the diversity of the business has helped it through the recession.

"I think if we were purely in the property and metals sectors we would be vulnerable to more pressure. But we are like an octopus with tentacles and I think that's what carries us through," he said.

Commercial property is the biggest division within MIH, and that sector has been hit hard by the recession as values plummet. MIH has a two million square feet-plus property book which includes Princess Mall in Edinburgh and Dunfermline's Kingsgate shopping centre.

But Murray said an upturn is now starting to occur "On property, we were in a worse situation three or four months ago in valuation terms. We were going along the bottom and now companies like British Land are starting to report an upturn. We are part of that."

Murray intends to reduce exposure to property, but he said he is not under pressure to do so as Lloyds Banking Group has been "very supportive". Major property disposals by MIH are thought to be on the cards.

His metals business has suffered because of reliance on the construction industry which came to a virtual standstill in many parts of the country during the recession. The fall in the price of steel has also been detrimental. A year ago the selling price was more than 700 a tonne. In July that had fallen to 450. But Murray is cautiously optimistic. He said: "There is no doubt that it has bottomed. I said in March that I did not expect to see a steel- making recovery until the end of this year or the early part of next year and I've predicted it quite well.

"We have started to see a profit again and we have held our market share. Another great barometer is the price of scrap and prices here too are hardening again."