Punch chiefs move from pubs to the Net

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The Independent Online
HUGH OSMOND, the founder of Punch Taverns, yesterday moved from pubs to the heady world of e-commerce, with the creation of an Internet investment vehicle.

The Punch chairman, with his finance director, Alan McIntosh, will convert the cash shell Blakes Clothing , in which they are directors and 10 per cent shareholders, into an Internet investor. They will bring on board Charles Nasser, founder of ClaraNET, one of Europe's biggest independent Net service providers, with a 15 per cent stake. Edward Spencer-Churchill, a management consultant who has advised Punch, also joins as a director, taking a 7.5 per cent holding.

Blakes' name will be changed to e-xentric to reflect the new strategy.

Speculation that Blakes, which has sold off all its trading interests, would remake itself into an investment vehicle caused the shares to double to 7.75p, before they were suspended earlier this month.

Mr Nasser said the vehicle would combine his knowledge of the Net with the deal-making skills of the other directors. He added that e-xentric would seek larger opportunities, in more established Internet businesses. Blakes plans to raise up to pounds 1.6m through a private placing of 50 million shares and a one-for-three open offer to existing shareholders, all at 2.25p.