Wyevale to auction retail business as investors try to oust chairman

Several private equity groups intend to bid

Wyevale Garden Centres is to be auctioned, probably to a private equity group. The company has received at least six approaches to buy it including one from a trade buyer, possibly DIY chain Focus, for whom a representative said: “Because of our history, maybe the press are putting two and two together.” Other interested parties are private equity houses Apax Partners, Bridgepoint and JP Morgan Partners. Wyevale did not deny reports that it has asked NM Rothschild to sell the chain, worth £300 million, to the highest bidder. Wyevale will hold an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) up to six weeks after investor Laxey Partners called for chairman David Williams to be replaced and instigated Wyevale’s sale. Laxey Partners chief executive Colin Kingsnorth said the hedge fund had a “reasonable chance” of removing Williams at an EGM, adding: “We’ve got a lot more stock than we did at the AGM.” Laxey, which has a 19 per cent stake in Wyevale, failed to gain enough shareholder support to oust Williams at the last AGM. Kingsnorth said Williams was “deeply unimpressive… we do not think he is up to it. He does not have any real knowledge. He is a consensus man. He has got no views himself at all.” Williams said: “We have enjoyed tremendous support from responsible shareholders. I would say to them, if you have a better strategy then tell us what it is. If you think the company is worth more than it is, then pay up. Put up or shut up. “We’re exploring whether someone from outside the company could deliver better value for shareholders than we could, and if that is the case, we want Wyevale to go to a good home. What we’re anxious to avoid is Laxey, working with hedge funds and other minority shareholders, getting control of the firm without ever setting out its strategy and without ever putting up any cash for the business.” Kingsnorth said: “The strategic review is not far off our own thinking, but we will implement it much more effectively.”

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