Corporate raider checks in with IHG

Nelson Peltz, the investor who loves to sweat better results out of managers, has bought into InterContinental Hotels
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The Independent Online

For the record, Nelson Peltz denies the story about the "topless tennis". A 1988 book about that decade's notorious corporate raiders recounted how Mr Peltz and his friend Saul Steinberg once had four women play a topless doubles tennis match in which they were the only spectators. The story lingers, despite his protestations now, because it is of a piece with an opulent lifestyle that includes some of the most luxurious playthings, the biggest homes and the longest trail of Hollywood girlfriends that you find among business moguls.

Before settling down with his third wife, a former model and mother to most of his 10 children, Mr Peltz was romantically linked to the actresses Victoria Principal and Diana Rigg, and a string of lesser starlets.

As he himself indelicately put it: "In the Seventies I did women. That's better than doing guys."

But if the column inches have focused on his lifestyle, British investors got a taste yesterday of Mr Peltz's real impact, when shares in the hotels group InterContinental Hotels (IHG) soared on the news that he has turned up on the share register. Investors need only glance at his record of shaking up companies to imagine that he has his sights on harassing IHG's management, too, and if he gets results it could mean big benefits for every shareholder.

His company, Trian Fund Management, has taken a 4.27 per cent stake in IHG, it was revealed yesterday, and while the FTSE 100 ended lower, IHG shares closed up 6.1 per cent at 1,526p.

Investors are betting with Mr Peltz that he has found another of his favourite targets: a company sitting on hugely valuable brands, but whose operational management of their assets have not been up to snuff.

These days, the New York-born billionaire accentuates the differences between himself and those old corporate raiders and their modern counterparts, the private equity firms. Not for him, debt-based, financial re-engineering to turn a quick profit; his style is to sweat the managers. He calls it "operational activism".

UK investors have had a taste of this before, and Britain has been the scene of some of Mr Peltz's biggest triumphs – as well as one of his darkest moments.

When he turned up on the shareholder register at Cadbury Schweppes in 2007, it was at a time when the chocolates and drinks maker was under pressure to split itself apart, pressure that Mr Peltz had decided to lead.

Within two days, the company announced just such a plan to shed its drinks business, clearing the way – ultimately – for a takeover by another Peltz investment, Kraft.

Cadbury was already no stranger to Mr Peltz because it bought Snapple from him, netting him the biggest fortune of his career. The fruit drinks business had been languishing until another of his investment vehicles, Triac, bought it for $300m (£195m) in 1997, completely revitalised the marketing of the brand and then sold it to its British buyer in 2000 for $1.45bn.

Mr Peltz is 70 later this month, but shows no sign of easing up on a relentless pace of work he has pursued since a very young age, when he dropped out of business school to drive trucks for his family's food delivery business. A few years later he sold the business for $8m, and got the taste for buying and selling companies.

He has driven his own children just as hard as they have grown up.

Between school and homework and relentless ice hockey practice, overseen by Mr Peltz himself on the ice hockey rink in the garden of their mansion, "my kids are exhausted every day", he once told an interviewer from Fortune magazine. "I keep them that way. It's gym, ice, homework. They're too tired to get in trouble. And I don't want them to see me walking off with a bag of golf clubs over my shoulder. If they see me work hard, it's better than a lecture."

It is nearly three decades now since Mr Peltz emerged with junk bond funding as the owner of the largest packaging firm in the US, assembled from the acquisition of tin can manufacturers around the country.

His interests have spanned numerous industries. He was briefly chairman of a UK-listed property company, Mountleigh, until being censured by the London Stock Exchange for selling shares before announcing disappointing results.

His campaign for efficiencies at Heinz, in which he berated executives for everything from the bad design of ketchup packets to inefficient operations, was blamed for the closure of that company's HP Sauce factory in Birmingham. He still sits on the Heinz board and is a director of Wendy's, the burger chain.

So what might be his plans for IHG? News of Trian's interest stoked the takeover speculation that is already swirling over the company, which owns the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental chains.

A combination of IHG and Marriott, for example, would create the world's biggest hotelier with almost 10 per cent of all the hotel rooms in the world. IHG's plan to become the biggest player in China is also seen as particularly attractive to Marriott.

Meanwhile, Blackstone Group, the private equity firm, is also on the prowl to expand its hotel empire, which it began with the acquisition of Hilton Hotels in 2007. Just last week, it bolted on Accor's US budget hotel business in a $1.9bn takeover deal.

Earlier this week, a City analyst floated the notion that IHG could already be in Marriott's sights.

In a note to his clients, Wyn Ellis of Numis Securities said: "Consolidation is inevitable at some stage. IHG, trading at an apparently perpetual discount to its US peers, looks like a possible consolidatee."

It seems Mr Peltz may agree.

Timeline: Evolution of InterContinental

1952 Kemmons Wilson opens the first Holiday Inn hotel, in Memphis, after being irritated by the lack of decent, affordable hotels on a family road trip to Washington DC.

1988 British brewer Bass buys the chain's international business, then the US operation two years later.

1994 Bass launches the Crowne Plaza brand.

1998 It buys InterContinental Hotels.

2000 Bass changes the name to Six Continents.

2002 Demerger of brewing business from hotels creates Mitchells & Butlers and IHG.

2004 IHG chief executive Richard North fired by new chairman David Webster. Replaced by Andy Coslett.

2012 Mr Coslett leaves to be replaced by Richard Solomons.