The tycoon John Caudwell yesterday netted £1.3bn from the sale of his mobile phones empire to the private equity firms Doughty Hanson and Providence Equity Partners.
Under the terms of the deal, Doughty Hanson will acquire Caudwell Group outright and then sell on the Phones4U retailer chain to Providence, while retaining the 20:20 Logistics Distribution business. 20:20 Logistics not only distributes mobile phones throughout the UK and Europe, but also is one of the largest suppliers of phone accessories such as cases and chargers in the world.
Mr Caudwell, who was listed as the UK's 29th richest person in this year's Sunday Times Rich List, owns 85 per cent of the company. His brother Brian, who helped him set up the business, owns 10 per cent, while Craig Bennett, the group finance director, has 5 per cent. The price the two private equity players paid for the firm surprised analysts. Most did not expect it to fetch more than £1.1bln.
Mr Caudwell said: "The sale process has attracted interest from a larger number of high quality bidders and I believe that we have achieved a fair price for the business."
He added: "Selling the business will allow me to spend more time fulfilling personal ambitions, more time with my family and more time working with my charity."
The 53-year-old Phones4U tycoon set up his own children's charity in 2002, naming it the Caudwell Charity. It gives money to sick youngsters for hospital treatment, medical equipment and for "dying wish" holidays. However, Mr Caudwell does not intend to retire from the business altogether. He said: "I have a number of investment and commercial plans in the pipeline, which will allow be to maintain some interests in the business world."
Mr Caudwell, a former used car salesman, set up the Stoke-based firm in 1987 when mobile phones were virtually unheard of. Initially, the company, called Midland Mobile Phones, took eight months to resell its first order of 26 phones. Today, it sells 26 phones every minute, employs 8,000 people and has an annual turnover of more than £2bn.
Like its rival Carphone Warehouse, which has a stock market value of £2.3bn, the group rode to success on the wave of mobile phone uptake. Mr Caudwell, who lives with his 36-year-old partner Claire Johnson in Broughton Hall, a £10m Grade I listed Staffordshire mansion, put his company up for sale in November of last year. To start with, it held exclusive talks with Doughty Hanson and Bain Capital. Bain fell out of the bidding at a late stage for undisclosed reasons.
Yesterday, the billionaire said that Caudwell Group has had "another year of excellent trading performance". He added: "With strong management teams across the business, I am confident we will see further growth in the coming months under the new ownership." The sale to the two private equity firms is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close next month.