Guy Hands to conquer City again?

Investment king looks to regain his crown. But backers may be reticent, reports Jamie Dunkley

Guy Hands' world was in tatters. Standing on the steps of a New York courthouse, the private equity king had been humbled and humiliated by defeat in a court battle with Citigroup.

It looked as though there was no way back for one of Britain's most famous financiers. Within weeks, EMI, the music company behind a Who's Who of international artists, from The Beatles to Katy Perry, that he had bought for more than £4bn in 2007, was taken over by the US investment bank.

City reaction to the 2010 judgement was not kind. Hands had overpaid for EMI and had lost investors – including himself – a cool £1.75bn in the process.

Soon after, he retreated to the tax haven of Guernsey and vowed to return: "It is a question of learning from it, moving on and not allowing it to make one bitter or twisted or despondent." However, few believed him and nearly three years later he is yet to get into his pre-crisis stride.

Recent events have suggested, though, that this may be about to change, with rumours of a comeback for the former Goldman Sachs star gathering pace.

Terra Firma, his private equity empire, is expected to list property group Deutsche Annington by the end of the year in a move it hopes will raise about €1bn (£849m). Hands is exploring similar options for wind farm operator Infinis and Irish gas company Phoenix.

Most significantly, he has appointed bankers to look at selling or floating Odeon, the cinema group that also hosts some of the world's glitziest, star-studded premieres in London's Leicester Square. Closer to home, he has invested £22.5m into Hand Picked Hotels, the boutique chain run by his wife, Julia.

These moves have heightened expectations that Terra Firma is about to raise a new fund, once it has returned cash to previous investors from those disposals. Hands, it seems, wants to sit on his throne once more.

This might not be possible. One UK-based investor says Terra Firma was tainted by the losses it incurred on the EMI deal.

"We wouldn't want to invest with them again," he adds. "Not after that transaction. Not only did everyone suffer huge losses but it has made us question the way he does business. He wields too much power at Terra Firma for our liking."

An industry source agreed that the 53-year-old faced a huge task convincing investors to part with their money, but believed he would do it. "Hands has a solid group of Asian backers who will continue to support him. Those followers will probably back him on a deal-to-deal basis."

In another twist to Hands's comeback, a US court last month threw out the November 2010 ruling that he had not been tricked by Citigroup into overpaying for EMI. Hands had claimed he had been misled by David Wormsley, a high-profile Citigroup banker in London, into overpaying for the business. Citigroup helped finance the deal but the allegation was rejected in a trial before US District Judge Jed Rakoff in 2010. Soon after, Citigroup took control of EMI and eventually broke up and sold the business.

There will now be a retrial. If he wins that, maybe even his fiercest detractors will welcome the return of the king.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
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