Outlook: GUS complaint leaves a sour taste

IT WAS THE first anniversary yesterday of the launch of Great Universal Stores' hostile bid for the catalogue retailer Argos. It was also the day on which the Takeover Panel chose to throw out the complaint subsequently brought by the GUS chairman, Lord Wolfson, over tactics used by Argos and its advisers, Schroders, in the unsuccessful bid defence.

Perhaps the Panel is trying to make a point. In the eyes of some, Lord Wolfson's initial complaint to the Takeover Panel's executive last May was petulant and vindictive, not to mention offensive and a waste of time. The executive concluded in June that no breach of the City Takeover Code had taken place. But Lord Wolfson is not the sort to take no for an answer and decided eventually to appeal against the executive's ruling to the full Panel.

His actions smacked then of a man who had overpaid for the business and was seeking to take it out on someone else. They still do, as yesterday's eight-page rant from the GUS camp against the ruling amply demonstrates.

The Panel, of course, is too polite to say as much. So instead it has contented itself with turning Lord Wolfson down on a technicality - that he did not get his appeal in on time.

The rules are straightforward enough and had Lord Wolfson or his advisers, Merrill Lynch, managed to get as far as page four of the Takeover Code they could have read it in black and white. Any appeal has to be lodged within one month. Lord Wolfson took four and a half months.

In anticipation perhaps that he was likely lose the argument, Lord Wolfson's advisers have been furiously pedalling the line that his complaint against Argos was based on a point of principle.

If that was the case, then it is odd that he should have personally pursued four Argos directors, most of whom are now out of a job, writing a four- page letter containing the thinly veiled threat of legal action.

A less charitable but more plausible interpretation of Lord Wolfson's actions was that he was seeking to get a favourable ruling from the Panel under his belt as a prelude to taking the four directors and Schroders to the courts and thence to the cleaners.

Along the way, he has made few friends. For the first time in the Panel's 31-year existence, he chose to question the impartiality of the executive's director-general, Alistair de Freiz, on the grounds that he is on secondment from SBC Warburg Dillon Read, the brokers to Argos. Presumably Lord Wolfson overlooked the fact that Warburgs is also GUS's principal adviser.

The one crumb of comfort Lord Wolfson can take is that the Panel has promised to look at the practice of investment banks being paid a higher success fee in the event of fighting off a hostile bid - as was the case with Schroders.

But otherwise, the entire episode leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Today Lord Wolfson ought to feel just a little chastened as well as a little wiser but the betting is he won't.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions