John Wertheimer & Co was established as a small printing business in the City of London in 1820. John Henry Williams, grandfather of Tony Williams bought a partnership in the business in 1884 and just before the turn of the century Clifton house was built to house the business. The six-storey building in Worship Street, EC2 less than a mile from the Bank of England, still stands today.
At the time of the 1st World War, the name was changed to Williams Lea & Co and John Henry ran the business until his death in 1937 when his son, Graham took over the reigns.
By great good fortune Clifton House survived the Blitz of the 2nd World War, when many other printers did not. As a foreign language printer Williams Lea printed propaganda leaflets, which were dropped over Germany as well as leaflets for underground resistance fighters.
Graham Williams was succeeded by his two sons, Frank and Tony and over the following decade a series of acquisitions were made outside London to diversify the business. The first, Perivan Press, which was based in Southend, became a general multi-colour offset printer, and it was followed by Dolphin Press in Brighton which became a self-adhesive label printing company and Multisets in Swindon which specialised in printing business forms. In all it grew into a group of eight specialist companies including a design studio.
Frank Williams passed away in 1978 and when Tony Williams took over leadership of the business the decision was made to establish Williams Lea as a Financial Printer serving the City community with its specialist printing needs. This move coincided with the privatisations of many state-owned industries and utilities and in 1990 Williams Lea was awarded the printing for the privatisation of the electricity industry, one of the largest and most complex jobs of its type.
At about this time Tony decided to launch an outsourcing business, to provide document services to businesses within their own premises. It focused initially on its customers in the City community but grew at a tremendous pace and soon broadened its reach both geographically and by sector. By 2006 it had a turnover of over £500 million with over 8,000 employees across 3 continents. In that year the need for capital for expanding markets lead them to selling the business to Deutsche Post.
Tony believed strongly that businesses should be a force for good. He always described the business as a family business and interpreted that in the widest possible sense. All employees were considered to be part of the family and Williams Lea was one of the first businesses in the UK to introduce an employee share option scheme so that everyone could benefit from its successes.
The sale of Williams Lea gave Tony and his wife Sheelagh an opportunity to share their good fortune again and so they set up the Tony and Sheelagh Williams charitable foundation in order to be able to make a difference to some of the country’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.