THE WELL known Scottish businessman Nissim Chilton co-founded, with his younger brother Elie, an international textiles manufacturing business in Ayrshire which grew to become the largest industrial employer in SouthWest Scotland. Latterly he became an expert business consultant, assisting the development of many companies.
He was also a prominent member of the Jewish community in Glasgow and a generous supporter of Jewish causes, most notably the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His charisma, combined with relentless drive, perseverance and persuasiveness, made him a popular high-profile personality within the Ayrshire and West of Scotland business community.
Nissim Chilton’s life is a classic story of a well-travelled European family settling in Scotland to make their fortune. He moved with the family from Egypt to France in 1959 when just 15, to complete his education. The next move was to Leicester to study textiles design and manufacture, before taking a job in Scotland with a Hawick textiles company.
In 1968 the brothers launched their own sportswear and leisureware business, securing backing from the doyen of Scottish merchant banking, Sir Angus Grossart, among others. Over the next ten years the business grew dramatically, employing 220 people and achieving annual sales of £17m.
Nissim travelled incessantly to the Far East, Russia and Europe, selling their output to clothing manufacturers and retailers. His particular skill was in selling to tough-minded international clothing retailers. Marks & Spencer became the company’s largest customer, followed by British Home Stores (BHS). Nissim rapidly became a member of the select band of global textile manufacturers.
The Chiltons invested in the latest technology, producing top-quality fabrics at ever-lower prices. But it could not protect the company from the intense price-led competition from the Far East and Eastern Europe, which decimated Britain’s textiles industry. Nissim bore the brunt of the winddown of the business, culminating in its closure in 2003 with the loss of all remaining 80 jobs – a blow which he felt personally.
Because the business had become insolvent, its final-salary pension scheme had been under-funded and Chilton employees were worried about losing their pension rights. But characteristically Nissim spent hours campaigning for the scheme to be supported by the Labour government’s new Pension Protection Fund. He succeeded in winning a £2.5m compensation package that ensured no former employees would lose out.
Undaunted, Nissim’s next move was to work on a new project called Wearable Technologies: he accurately foresaw the trend towards designer and branded clothing that embedded sound technology, enabling its wearers to listen to music or messages without having to wield a handset. Nissim then turned his energies and skills into advising others in business, deploying the hard-won knowledge that he had accumulated over 30 years. He successfully established the first Ayrshire Business Forum, to bring together business owners to share their knowledge and experience.
The impact that Nissim had on his clients, is best summed up in this tribute from one Ayrshire entrepreneur: “He challenged us to do more with our businesses and used his extensive network to help us see the world beyond Ayrshire and to help each other without reward.”
Together with Elie, Nissim Chilton was a staunch member and supporter of the Entrepreneurial Exchange, the self-help organisation for over 400 Scottish owner-managers. A man of great integrity, Nissim Chilton believed in doing business the old-fashioned way, sealing deals with a handshake rather than a team of lawyers.He worked doggedly through his cancer treatment. The week before his fatal heart attack, he had passed his annual medical examination.
Nissim and his wife Eileen had three children: twin daughters Elana and Karina and son Jonathan. Nissim and Eileen separated over a decade ago and in 2005 Suzanne Freedman became his life partner.
He is survived by Eileen, his children and Suzanne.
Chilton: business expertise