A billionaire embroiled in the battle for control of Stobart has made a swoop for Wyevale Garden Centres.
Philip Day, who owns Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM), is understood to have put in an offer for the 145-strong chain which is being sold by tycoon Guy Hands.
Hands, 58, is thought to be seeking well above £400million. However, it is believed Day’s bid is below this and could well be trumped.
Day, 52, who owns a 19th century Tudor mansion near Edmond Castle in Cumbria, has made a fortune snapping up prominent brands such as Jane Norman, Peacocks, Austin Reed and Jaeger.
But the reclusive billionaire is currently in the middle of a bust-up over the future of Southend Airport owner Stobart Group.
Rebels led by Stobart’s ex-boss Andrew Tinkler have put Day forward to replace Iain Ferguson, 63, as chairman.
Tinkler, 54, was last month fired from Stobart’s board amid accusations he is trying to subvert the company. The racehorse fanatic owns the £3million Newby Grange next to Day’s castle in Cumbria, triggering questions about the pair’s independence.
The row has dragged in some of the City’s biggest names, with fund manager Neil Woodford backing Tinkler and Invesco backing Ferguson, while major shareholder M&G has also leapt in, putting forward ex-Asda boss Allan Leighton as an interim chairman to defuse the row.
Day has an estimated net worth of £1.2billion. He is rarely seen in Britain and spends most of his time in Dubai.
Wyevale, which employs around 6,000 people, was put up for sale by Hands in May, who said it could be broken up or sold as a whole.
His private equity fund, Terra Firma, bought the chain in 2012 from the Garden Centre Group for about £276million.
It had heavy debts following the financial crash, with major shareholders Lloyds Banking Group and Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter losing money.
Hands, ranked 455 in The Sunday Times Rich List, claims its turnaround is nearly complete, so now is the time to sell.
Wyevale’s latest accounts at Companies House, for the year ending December 2016, show it made a loss of £120million on sales roughly flat at £254million. However, it is understood it is on track to make a profit this year.
Former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King now oversees Terra Firma’s portfolio.
Day’s EWM already operates concessions in some Wyevale Garden Centres. He is thought to be keen not to get into a bidding war for the company or overpay, but it is believed that Hands has already had offers from other firms.
Day’s bid for control of Stobart Group is set to come to a head at its annual general meeting tomorrow, when shareholders will vote on Ferguson’s re-election. If Ferguson loses, they will then vote on Day’s appointment on July 18.
His campaign took a hit on Tuesday when influential shareholder advisory group Glass Lewis recommended shareholders do not back him.
They said: ‘The dissidents have not articulated how appointing Mr Day to the board would improve corporate governance at the company or lead to a more favourable outcome for all shareholders.’