TRIBUTES have been paid to a North-East multi-millionaire business owner who is giving his company to a special foundation to create jobs in the region.

Ebac owner John Elliott, television’s first Secret Millionaire, is to leave the company that makes water coolers and dehumidifiers to benefit the community rather than his family.

The charter for the new foundation that will oversee the business was signed yesterday by Mr Elliott and witnessed by former trade Minister Lord Digby Jones at a ceremony at Ebac’s factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

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The move will ensure that the business will not be sold for personal profit.

The aim is to create a new North-East plant in the next three years that will double the company’s 200-strong workforce.

Lord Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) 2000-2006, said: "Today we are witnessing the culmination of an entrepreneurial journey.

"Someone who set up a business, risked everything, employed people, paid taxes that went towards schools and hospitals, has made one final promise.

“John has said – I won’t sit in a tax exile haven. I won’t sell out to the Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Germans or anyone else. I will ensure that this business endures."

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson reckoned it was a very enlightened decision and hoped it would lead to business owners in a similar position following suit.

Pamela Petty, Mr Elliott’s daughter and managing director of the firm, said: “This is more important than family wealth and the approach my father has taken is strongly endorsed by all his children.”

In front of guests that included the Bishop of Durham and local business leaders, Mr Elliott, 68, summed up his philosophy towards wealth creation when he said: “Don’t chase money – chase success. Once you are successful, cash will find its way to you.”

Ebac was founded by Mr Elliott in 1972. For the past two decades, the company has continued to expand its UK operations, resisting the temptation to relocate its manufacturing base abroad despite maintaining a strong export focus, with 70 per cent of its turnover coming from Europe.

Two years ago, it moved operations from Bishop Auckland to the old Schott glass plant on Aycliffe Industrial Park.

In 1986, Mr Elliott was awarded an MBE for services to small business and in 2006 he appeared on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire programme as he temporarily swapped his mansion near Crook for a flat in Liverpool to find someone whose life he could change for the better with a 50,000 cash gift.