Domestic feud over Blackwell

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Toby Blackwell, the septuagenarian former chairman of Blackwell Publishing, is facing a revolt in his own household over his attempt to force the scientific publisher to put itself up for sale.

Toby controls 30.1 per cent of the shares in Blackwell and says he speaks for minority investors owning another 12.5 per cent. He also claims that Blackwell Booksellers, another family company which owns 9.3 per cent of the voting shares in Blackwell Publishing, would vote with him. He owns 54 per cent of the shares in Blackwell Booksellers.

But his son Peter, who runs the book-selling chain, has come out against his father. He is supporting his cousin Nigel Blackwell, who is now chairman of the pub- lishing business and owns 42.3 per cent of the shares.

Peter said he had received "an undertaking from Toby" that he would not use the Blackwell Booksellers' shares to force the publisher to put itself up for sale.

The complex family feud has become even worse for Toby as his wife, Jennifer, is understood to be unhappy with the publicity caused by the boardroom battles.

The board of the Oxford-based publisher is opposed to a trade sale, even though it could value the business at more than £250m. It is basing its hopes on Rene Olivieri, the American chief executive brought in to turn it round and float it on the stock market.

The group is one of the largest scientific and professional publishers in the world. Christopher Shaw, the former Henry Ansbacher banker who is advising Toby Blackwell, believes it would be attractive to one of its close rivals, such as Taylor & Francis or John Wiley. The market leader in the sector, Reed Elsevier, would probably face anti-trust problems if it made a bid.