<p>SAN ANTONIO – Clarke American Checks has won awards by national groups and even federal agencies in recognition of the company's workplace ethics and integrity. But despite being considered "the jewel in the crown" by its parent company Novar plc, Clarke American is up for sale. According to a Novar release, "the long term strategy for the Group remains the development of Intelligent Business Systems and Indalex Aluminum solutions through a combination of acquisition and organic growth." Novar, located in the United Kingdom, said it put Clarke American up for sale Oct. 26, 2001. "A significant part" of the proceeds from the sale will be returned to shareholders, the company said. Clarke American has annual sales of about $500 million and cash flow of $130 million. The purchase price is expected to fall between $660 million and $840 million. Ironically, the announcement of the pending sale of Clarke American was made shortly before the MICR Express Division of Clarke American Checks was honored by the Master Printers of America with a 2001 Best Workplace in America award. Of the 95 companies recognized, Clarke American-MICR Express was one of only 32 named "Best of the Best." The company also won the Texas Quality award last summer. More recently, Clarke American Checks received the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award for 2001 in the category of manufacturing from Pres. Bush. LaRhesa Pollock, assistant vice president, new product development and communications for Clarke American said the company's achievements and awards have no bearing on Novar's decision to sell its Security Printing Services division. "Novar has a very strategic plan to focus on one area of its business, Intelligent Business Systems. The idea of focusing on one business area has been a long term plan, they've been simplifying their focus over the years," Pollock said. Founded in 1874 by Samuel Maverick and Robert Clarke, the company was originally called Maverick-Clarke Lithography Company. In 1963, Clarke Printing began operating separately from Maverick-Clarke. In 1985, British company Caradon acquired Clarke Printing, and two years later Clarke Printing acquired another British company, Rudco, and changed its name to Clarke Checks. In 1989, Clarke Checks merged with American Bank Stationery and changed its name to Clarke-American. CUNA renewed its strategic alliance with Clarke American in June 2000, and Wes Millar, vice president of strategic alliances for CUNA said about 2,500 credit unions use Clarke American as their check printer. Millar said CUNA is "watching closely" developments in the situation. He added though that, "Just because Clarke American is up for sale doesn't automatically affect the company's relationship with credit unions or with CUNA. Whoever buys them will obviously have input into the company's strategies, and that could have a potential effect on credit unions. We don't want to jump to conclusions though just because they're up for sale." The biggest gauge in CUNA's reaction to the news will be the feedback it receives from credit unions that do business with Clarke American, and so far Millar said CUNA hasn't heard from any credit unions. "We want to work with whoever winds up buying Clarke American to help them continue to provide quality products for credit unions. As long as Clarke American is able to continue to do that, then they'll be good for credit unions," said Millar. Rick Foy, public relations manager for Liberty said the fact that Novar expects to get the purchase price analysts predict "is an encouraging sign that the analysts still believe that a company in an industry as mature as check printing can still command such a high sale price." Asked if Liberty, which has the larget share of the CU check printing market, was entertaining the possibility of bidding on the purchase of Clarke American, Foy answered, "Unequivocally not. We have no intention of bidding, and we haven't been asked to." Foy also offered that the potential sale of Clarke American "reinforces how important it is for all credit unions to constantly evaluate the business strategies of their business partners all the time." Pollock said Clarke American "has every intention of continuing with its vision and its business as it is today." She said she didn't know who Novar had invited to bid on the sale, but added that, "If the sale is not advantageous to Novar, it will call it off. We're a high performing company." Novar hopes to wrap up the auction by mid-2002, according to reports. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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