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Rank to pay Earl 20m pounds

RANK is to pay at least pounds 20m to a senior executive who has spent part of the past year setting up a private rival to one of its most profitable businesses, writes Chris Blackhurst.

Robert Earl, who runs Rank's Hard Rock Cafes around the world, will receive the money when his five-year contract expires on New Year's Eve. But ever since October 1991, he has been setting up his own chain of Planet Hollywood themed restaurants. The first to open, in New York, is 300 yards from a Hard Rock Cafe. He has opened two more in North America, and a fourth in London is due to start shortly.

Five years ago, Mr Earl sold his President Entertainments restaurant company to Pleasurama, the leisure group. Under the deal, he agreed to a joint venture with Pleasurama to manage its Hard Rock chain for five years. He was to receive a salary and a one-off payment for his shares to a family trust on completion of the contract. Pleasurama was taken over by Mecca, in turn acquired by Rank.

'There were only five Hard Rocks in the group when I came along. Now there are 22,' said Mr Earl from his home in Orlando, Florida. He said no sum had been agreed with Rank, but 'I hope it's more than pounds 20m'.

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