People and Business: Deja vu down at the Co-op

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The Independent Online
FOR A brief moment yesterday it seemed as if the foiled takeover attempt on the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) two years ago was repeating itself. Further to weekend press reports of a new bid for CWS by American- owned finance house Babcock & Brown, the City rumour mill had it that Andrew Regan, the foiled bidder of yore, was again involved. Even Mr Regan's former spin doctor David Bick was to play the same role all over again.

When I phoned for a reaction from Mr Bick, who now runs his own firm, Holborn Public Relations, I had to hold the receiver well away from my ear: "Whatever happens about a bid for CWS, Andrew Regan will implacably, 100 per cent not be involved. He will not be involved in any shape or form. He doesn't want to be ... not in the remotest sense." And so it went on. I got the message.

Mr Bick did add that, yes, he himself had been retained as an adviser to the London office of Brown & Babcock, but any putative bid for CWS would be "a long way off". Mr Bick also adds that he is still friends with Mr Regan. Mr Regan lives in Monaco with his wife and six children - "pursuing private business interests. And I do mean private," says Mr Bick.

There are echoes of two years ago on the other side, though. When news of a possible new bid broke, the CWS's top brass, led by Graham Melmoth, had a quiet word with Brian Keelan, the Warburg Dillon Read corporate financier who saw off Mr Regan last time. Mr Keelan works in New York, but he has agreed to keep an eye on things just in case he is needed to fly in and save the day.