Ambani eyes UK's iconic department store

Ambani eyes UK's iconic department store

The world's fourth richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who has been attracting billions of dollars of investments from global wealth funds and investors as a seller of stakes in his digital services platform and retails unit, has emerged as a surprise contender to take control of Debenhams, UK's iconic department store chain.

A news report by British news channel Sky News said Reliance Retail, a subsidiary of Ambani's flagship Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), is holding discussions with Debenhams' advisers for acquiring "a part or all" of the 242-year-old retail chain's business.

The cash-strapped Debenhams, which is currently owned by a consortium of lenders, was taken into administration since April for a second time this year to absolve itself from legal action by creditors during the coronavirus crisis, which could have forced it into liquidation.

Sky News report quoted sources as suggesting that there was no certainty that Reliance's interest would translate into a formal bid for the struggling retailer. One source, however, said Reliance Retail's interest in Debenhams "appeared to be serious".

The news of RIL's interest in the struggling UK department store comes in the wake of Debenhams laying off 2,500 employees to realign costs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. If Reliance moves ahead with the deal, it will be its second acquisition of a UK-based company after Hamleys.

Last year, Reliance Brands, a subsidiary of RIL, acquired iconic British toy retailer Hamleys in a Rs6.2 billion all-cash deal.

The surprise switch of role by Reliance Retail - from a stake seller to a buyer - comes as the retail unit of RIL inked a Rs55.5 billion deal with US investment firm KKR for 1.28 per cent equity stake, valuing the Indian firm at a pre-money equity price of Rs4.21 trillion. Earlier in September, American private equity firm Silver Lake invested Rs75 billion in Reliance Retail for 1.75 per cent equity stake.

With a total net worth of $80.6 billion, Mukesh Ambani was ranked fourth in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index on August 8. Ambani was behind Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos (whose net worth was at $187 billion), Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($121 billion) and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg ($102 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which is a daily ranking of the world's richest people. Ambani's oil-to-telecom conglomerate RIL shares have broken a series of records over the past few weeks, boosted by a series of investments totalling Rs1.52 trillion from overseas in its Jio Platforms.

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