Osmond steps down from Punch and casts his acquisition net

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The Independent Online

Hugh Osmond the serial entrepreneur who heads Britain's largest pub chain, Punch Taverns, yesterday flexed his acquisition muscles after announcing plans to step down as executive chairman in preparation for a flotation early next year.

Mr Osmond, who won a David and Goliath-style victory over Whitbread in the battle for Allied Domecq's pub estate, said he wanted people to realise "there is more to Punch than my name" before the group floated as two companies – one of 1,000 managed pubs and one of 4,100 leased pubs.

"The businesses are really autonomous and should each have their own identity. I wanted people to get used to the fact that the individual management teams are more important than me," he said.

Mr Osmond, whose skills as a hostile bidder are legendary, plans to cast his net outside the leisure sphere when he begins to look seriously at possible acquisitions from September.

"I'm looking to do different things, not in the pub sector," he said. "Because of the slowdown I think there will be some interesting opportunities in some fairly big companies that haven't coped with the downturn very well." He said he had yet to identify a target or even an industry.

Mr Osmond said he was in the process of recruiting two industry heavyweights to chair the separate pub units and expected to make an announcement in a couple of months. He intends to become non-executive chairman. Alan McIntosh, corporate finance director of Punch, is also stepping down.

Mr Osmond, who was a director of PizzaExpress for eight years, admitted that he did not find the prospect of heading a public company enticing. "I prefer running private companies. I think some of the governance relating to public companies is out of hand and not in the shareholders' interests. You get pilloried if you make money because the company is successful and you get pilloried if it is unsuccessful."

He said he had no plans to sell his substantial shareholding in Punch but was not ruling anything out. Sales at Punch were up nearly 9 per cent in its last quarter against the same period last year.

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