Johnson Matthey traces its origins to 1817, when Percival Norton Johnson set up business as a gold assayer in London. In 1851 George Matthey joined the business and its name was changed to Johnson & Matthey. The following year the firm was appointed Official Assayer & Refiner to the Bank of England. The company had branches in the cities of Birmingham and Sheffield to supply the jewellery and silverware and cutlery trade with raw materials and ancillary supplies, such as silver solder and flux, which it manufactured.
In 1874, the company was commissioned to manufacture the kilogram reference standard, made from 90% platinum and 10% iridium, and held in the Bureau international des poids et mesures.
Beginning in 1957, the company published a journal, Platinum Metals Review.
In the 1960s Johnson Matthey formed a subsidiary, Johnson Matthey Bankers (JMB), which took its seat in the London Gold Fixing. In the early 1980s the bank expanded its activities outside the bullion business and started making high-risk loans. Bank assets more than doubled between 1980 and 1984, and loans became concentrated to a few borrowers, including Mahmoud Sipra and his El Saeed group, Rajendra Sethia and ESAL Commodities, and Abdul Shamji. The quality of some of these loans turned out to be worse than expected, such as the £21 million lent to Abdul Shamji of Gomba Holdings (the then owner of Puddle Dock and the Mermaid Theatre in London). The size of the loans grew to exceed the level of the bank's capital. (Shamji was sentenced to 15 months in prison for lying about his assets during a High Court inquiry into the bank's collapse.) Because JMB was one of five members of the London Gold Fixing, Bank of England officials were worried that if it became insolvent confidence in the other bullion banks would be undermined, and panic could spread to the rest of the British banking system. To prevent a wider banking crisis the Bank of England organized a rescue package on the evening of 30 September 1984, purchasing JMB for £1. Most of JMB's business was subsequently sold to Mase Westpac.
In 1989, worldwide annual turnover of Johnson Matthey was £1.43 billion, with industrial plants in Evere (Belgium), Wayne (Pennsylvania) and Kogarah (Australia).
In 2008 Johnson Matthey acquired Argillon, a business specialising in catalysts, for €214 million.
In October 2010 Johnson Matthey acquired InterCAT, a supplier of fluid catalytic cracking additives for the petroleum refining industry, for $56.2 million. Also in 2010 Johnson Matthey opened a new £34 million European emission control catalyst plant in Skopje, (Macedonia), which leveraged its manufacturing technology to produce catalysts for both light- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Johnson Matthey is organised into five divisions:Emission Control Technologies manufactures catalysts for light and heavy duty vehicles and stationary exhaust emission control and is a supplier of catalytic systems, including Continuously Regenerating Trap (CRT) systems for controlling heavy duty diesel vehicle pollution, which the company commercialised in 1995 and for which it won a MacRobert Award for in 2000. Today, around one third of all cars worldwide are fitted with a Johnson Matthey catalyst.
Process Technologies supplies catalysts, licenses technologies and delivers other services to the petrochemical, syngas, oil refining and gas processing industries.
Precious Metal Products manages, distributes, refines and recycles precious metals and fabricates products using precious metals and related materials. Johnson Matthey offers seven metal separation of gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium and ruthenium. Products include advanced coatings for glass manufacture, catalysts for the production of nitric acid and medical device components.
Fine Chemicals supplies active pharmaceutical ingredients and catalysis and chiral technologies to the pharmaceutical, fine chemical and agrochemical industries. It is also a globally integrated supplier of research chemicals under the Alfa Aesar brand name.
New Businesses targets new opportunities in areas adjacent to the company’s current businesses and which align with its core technology competencies. This division includes Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells and Johnson Matthey Battery Technologies.
Johnson Matthey identifies Sustainability as an integral part of its growth strategy and a key driver for its competitiveness. In 2013/14 87% of Johnson Matthey’s sales came from products providing sustainability benefits.
The company was one of the first FTSE 100 companies to produce an integrated annual report and won the Best Annual Report in the FTSE 100 in the ICSA Hermes Transparency in Governance Awards in 2012, which recognised how sustainability issues were ‘described in a way that clearly links them to business strategy and performance, rather than leaving them in a silo or on the sidelines.’
In 2014 Johnson Matthey was shortlisted for Business in the Community's Responsible Business of the Year Award for its Sustainability 2017 programme.
Johnson Matthey has a formal framework, Sustainability 2017, comprising five elements of sustainability – social, environment, health and safety, governance, financial – and six targets that were set when the programme launched in 2007 and that the company aims to achieve by 2017, the 200th anniversary of its foundation.
In 2007 Johnson Matthey set itself six targets to achieve by 2017.At least double earnings per share (achieved in 2013/14)
Halve carbon intensity
Achieve zero waste to landfill
Halve key resources per unit of output
Achieve zero greater than three day accidents
Achieve zero occupational illness cases
The Sustainability 2017 programme aims to halve the company’s carbon intensity from a 2007 baseline of 294 tonnes CO2 equivalent / £ million sales to 147 tonnes. In 2013/14 Johnson Matthey reported a reduction in carbon intensity to 149 tonnes CO2 equivalent / £ million sales. As a result of Johnson Matthey’s nitrous oxide abatement catalysts more than 64 million tonnes CO2 equivalent of N2O has been prevented from entering the atmosphere.
In December 2008 US subsidiary Johnson Matthey Inc was fined $2.25 million for a felony violation of the United States Clean Water Act, after admitting to violating the act at its Salt Lake City precious metals refining facility. The violation related to the selective screening of wastewater samples for compliance analysis. Following the charge Johnson Matthey Inc contributed $750,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and entered a three-year compliance agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency.