Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Suitors weigh up bid for Sir Philip Green’s vulnerable BHS

Several suitors are circling over Sir Philip Green’s BHS with a view to snapping up the struggling retailer.

South African billionaire Christo Wiese is thought to be the frontrunner for the business, having publicly confirmed his interest, teaming up with former Asda boss Andy Bond.

 

However, private equity group Apollo, and corporate turnaround specialists including HMV’s saviour Hilco are also thought to be looking.

 

Mr Wiese is expected to be travelling to the UK this week to step up his interest, although, it is understood that he and his team has yet to make contact with Mr Green.

 

Sources close to the billionaire retailer have said privately for some time that Mr Green would be keen to offload BHS. He has been slowly closing stores across the country, while introducing products from his other businesses into BHS, including Burton, Wallis and Dorothy Perkins.

 

The company has struggled in recent years and made a £71m pre-tax loss last year on sales of £700m and is a shadow of its previous self when Mr Green first bought the business in 1999 for £200m.

 

He turned around its fortunes within a year of the purchase, leaving it valued at £1.2bn and making Mr Green the fastest paper billionaire ever.

 

Mr Wiese, South Africa’s third richest man with a fortune worth an estimated £2bn, already has a rich heritage in value retail, including supermarket chain Shoprite and a large stake in Pepkor, a South African clothing and footwear business where he is chairman.

 

He has teamed up with Mr Bond, former chief executive of Asda and is keen to expand his empire further into Europe to add to his portfolio in Poland. According to reports, he has drawn up a list of potential targets with BHS at the top.

 

Since Mr Wiese went public with his intentions for BHS a host of other investors have taken notice and could launch a counter bid, potentially turning the company into more of a discount brand to compete with New Look, Shop Direct and Primark.

 

Mr Wiese has already operated on the British high street, with businesses including the Brown and Jackson group, owner of Poundstetcher. However, some retail analysts have suggested that since Mr Green brought BHS under his Arcadia business in 2009, which includes Topshop and Miss Selfridges, rather than running it as a separate entity, any sale could lead to a lengthy unwinding process of the brand. Mr Green is not adverse to selling parts of his business empire and sold a 25 per cent stake in Topshop to private equity firm Leonard Green for around £500m.

 

Hilco and Mr Green both declined to comment, while Mr Wiese and Apollo were unavailable.

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