Lovering maintains CinVen link by taking up Fitness First chairmanship

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The Independent Online

John Lovering, the entrepreneur behind bid approaches for Debenhams and Somerfield, has been appointed chairman of Fitness First, the health clubs operator taken private in a £210m management buyout last month.

The role will be complicated by the equity structure of the company because Deutsche Asset Management has decided not to accept the terms of the CinVen-backed buyout and plans to remain an investor in the private company. Deutsche even increased its stake in Fitness First to beyond the 10 per cent level to ensure that CinVen could not compulsorily purchase all the remaining shares. The fund management group believes the gym operator has good growth prospects.

Mr Lovering, 53, replaces Christopher Pearce, who made about £12m from the deal.

The appointment cements Mr Lovering's strong links with CinVen, with whom he has done several deals in the past including four where he has been chairman. They included Hoogenbosch, a sports shoe retailer in the Netherlands that was acquired from the old Sears conglomerate. Others were The Peacock Group, the discount retailer which was floated in 1999, and Odeon Cinemas which was bought out by CinVen in 2000 and sold to WestLB in March this year for £431m.

Mr Lovering has since been linked with CVC Partners and Texas Pacific in his interest in a potential £1.5bn-plus bid for Debenhams. In his rejected £598m approach for Somerfield, he was due to get financing from Morgan Stanley. The deal for which he is best known, the buyout of Homebase in 2000, was funded by Permira.

The Fitness First role means Mr Lovering is now chairman of three companies, with the others being Peacocks and Laurel, the private-equity backed pubs operator.