India's Reliance Retail in 'talks' on Debenhams
Ailing British department store chain Debenhams is reportedly in the sights of India’s richest man, retail tycoon Mukesh Ambani, the man behind the giant Reliance Retail. He’s among the parties that have approached the firm’s advisers, a news report claimed this week.
Sky News said that Reliance, which already has a stake in UK retail via its purchase of toy store Hamleys last year, hasn’t tabled a formal bid but is in talks with Debenhams’ advisers. An insider described its interest as “serious”.
Debenhams has been on the auction block for several weeks as the company, which is still operating in administration and employs around 12,000 people, finds bouncing back from the lockdown a tough call, despite trading having been better recently than it had predicted.
The news report said that Reliance’s interest in Debenhams is a surprise given the department store chain’s widely reported problems and the ongoing situation with the coronavirus in Britain. Retail could remain challenged for far longer than originally assumed when the lockdown started in March with many in the UK assuming that a second lockdown of some sort is likely to happen.
But if anyone knows how to make a success of a retail operation, it’s Mukesh Ambani. Not only is he the richest man in India but he’s also assumed to be the richest man in the whole of Asia with a fortune of almost £50 billion. His business interests don’t only cover retail but textiles, petrochemicals and technology too.
The question is whether Reliance would want to buy Debenhams as a whole or just part of it, the latter of which is seen as a strong possibility. Neither Reliance nor Debenhams have commented.
We could know what the outcome of the talks with potential bidders are relatively soon, although not as soon as had been expected earlier. There had originally been a reported deadline of the end of September for a deal, but that better-than-expected trading has meant the situation is slightly less urgent.
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