Ben Sherman sold for £80m to Oxford Industries

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The Independent Online

The management team that transformed Ben Sherman from an Ulster shirt-maker into a global fashion brand yesterday scooped a £14m windfall after the business was sold to a US clothing giant in a deal that valued it at £80m, including debt.

Oxford Industries, which makes Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica brand clothing under licence, yesterday beat off US rival Liz Claiborne to acquire Ben Sherman from 3i, the UK private equity group that saved the company from financial collapse in 1993. Miles Gray, Ben Sherman's chief executive, said the eight-strong management team had agreed to reinvest the paper profit they made on their 20 per cent stake. "Oxford has very much bought the management. We are very well incentivised and we are staying in," he said.

3i, whose initial attempt to sell Ben Sherman in 2000 was thwarted by the falling financial markets, hired Citigroup to conduct an auction of the business. Bob Brannan, the former Glasgow Rangers chief executive who chaired Ben Sherman until November 2001, was among the disappointed bidders. A 3i spokeswoman said the venture capitalists, which paid £4m for Ben Sherman 11 years ago to save it from receivership, received proceeds of £46m for its 65 per cent stake. Enterprise Equity, a Belfast-based private equity group, owned the remaining 15 per cent of Ben Sherman.

J Hicks Lanier, Oxford Industries' chief executive, said: "We believe there are significant opportunities for growth both overseas and here in the US for the brand." He expects his company to prosper from Mr Gray's "international expertise", adding: "There are opportunities for us to leverage Ben Sherman's considerable infrastructure to grow other parts of our business." Oxford Industries expects Ben Sherman to boost sales by $150m next year and add 20 cents per share to its earnings.

Ben Sherman has agreed to kit out the British Olympic team, and has an agreement with Rio Ferdinand, the Manchester United football player who is sitting out the European Championships as part of a ban for missing a drugs test.