Ashley to score £600m goal in Sports World listing

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The Independent Online

Mike Ashley, the secretive retail tycoon, is expected to announce plans this week to list his Sports World empire on the London Stock Exchange in a move that will see him pocket at least £600m.

Mr Ashley, 42, has lined up heavyweight City firms Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Credit Suisse to advise him on the float, in which he is tipped to sell at least 30 per cent of his sports retailer. Analysts expect Sports World, which owns 300 shops, including Lillywhites in Piccadilly Circus, and brands such as Dunlop Slazenger and Kangol, to secure a valuation of around £2bn.

Should the tycoon decide to push ahead with the listing, a non-executive chairman and two non-executive directors have already been lined up to sit on the board of the company, which will be called Sports Direct on admission.

Unlike most major floats, the decision to get a stock market quote for Sports World is entirely in the hands of Mr Ashley, who at present owns 100 per cent of the company. But, given how far down the road to listing the tycoon has now gone, analysts believe it is very unlikely he will pull the plug on the scheme.

City sources predict that Mr Ashley will remain Sports World's majority shareholder and will take an executive role as deputy chairman. Meanwhile, the billionaire's long-standing lieutenant, Dave Forsey, will become chief executive.

Mr Ashley started the business after leaving school at 18. He began on the high street in the 1980s, opening sports and ski shops in and around London with private money. In the 1990s he re-branded the chain Sports Soccer and grew it rapidly. Nevertheless, he was registered as a "sole trader" until as late as 2000, when the business was first incorporated.

At the last count, the Hertfordshire-based retailer employed more than 8,000 staff nationwide. The chain has recently expanded into Ireland, Belgium and Slovenia.

In 2002, Mr Ashley, who has repeatedly avoided cultivating any sort of public image, acquired Lillywhites and turned the upmarket store into a pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap outlet in line with the rest of his shops. According to forecasts from City analysts, Sports World will make pre-tax profits of up to £130m for the year to April 2007.

The tycoon spoke to the media for the first time in December when he confirmed reports that a listing of Sports World was likely. He said his ambition was to turn his company into the most profitable sports retailer in the world.