Sir Richard Branson is considering a 50m pound bid for the Borders books chain in the UK, in what would be a major expansion of his retail operations. According to a report in trade magazine Retail Week, the billionaire tycoon has requested detailed information on the 70-shop chain from Merrill Lynch, the investment bank which is handling the sale.
But Branson faces quite a lot of competition, according to Publishing News. Industry observers believe that David Roche, Border’s CEO on the UK side, will try and mount an MBO for the company following last week’s shock announcement from its parent company that it intended to sell its UK, Australia and New Zealand operations to concentrate on the domestic US market. Speculation increased this week that a breakup of the company is likely too and that former Ottakar’s boss James Heneage may find himself involved, too. One observer said: “David would love to take the company – he’s ambitious and well-regarded, and is probably one of the more capable people to be able to front an MBO. Borders US has to sell it within a time window in order to save face, because they’ve gone so public on it and in order to keep the UK team engaged. If David can get the backing, he might get it at a good price.” Roche himself simply said: “All options are open.”
Observers point out that an MBO will, obviously, require backing. Analyst David Stoddart at Teather & Greenwood said: “I can’t believe that the private equity fraternity hasn’t had a good look at HMV and drawn their own conclusions. They’ll have to make an assessment of the exit price they’re likely to get after three to five years.” Figures of between ï¿½50m and ï¿½70m are being suggested for the group, with Richard Ratner at Seymour Pierce saying: “I don’t think it will go for very high money and it could be broken up. An MBO is possible. Apart from WHSmith cherry picking, you’ve got to rule Smiths out. Waterstone’s might be interested in the odd store I suppose.”