Retail fighter returns to claim the shop shop

John Shannon says he is not acting out of revenge. Whatever the case, the 45-year-old former Midlands engineer is in the throes of one of the most intriguing takeovers in the City.

Last year he fell foul of the board at Country Casuals, the women's clothing retailer, and left as chairman and chief executive of a company in which he holds nearly 20 per cent of the shares.

Earlier this month he decided to use his shareholding as a lever to launch an aggressive pounds 26.8m takeover bid for the company. He has already won the support of the next largest shareholder, Phillips and Drew Fund Management, with 12 per cent. And if he wins the battle, he intends to clear out the board and pay himself pounds 128,100 in lieu of a claim he has against the company for his earlier departure.

"I was quite happy to do other things until I saw the latest financial results and then I decided I had to act," he says. "I could have dumped the stock in the market, but that would have had a dramatic effect on the share price and I'm not sure I could have placed it all. Or I could have tried to organise shareholder revolts, but having looked at the numbers I decided that the best way forward was to make a cash bid."

Mr Shannon is using a shell company for the deal, Ciro Holdings. If successful, this company will buy out Ciro Pearls, another Shannon-controlled company, for pounds 1m. As a result of this deal Mr Shannon would receive more than pounds 450,000 in cash.

Mr Shannon meets visitors in an office above a Ciro jewellers' shop in New Bond Street in London's Mayfair, where he talks freely about a career that has not been short of controversy or movement.

He started in the motor industry as a graduate trainee at Automotive Products. He moved to Yorkshire to work for AE Group supplying car components but left two years later after a disagreement with his boss over computer systems.

Then he moved on to retailing with a job at Stylo Barratt Shoes and from there to Phildar, a French company that specialises in knitting wool and handicraft products.

In 1983 he was offered a job at Laura Ashley as development director to help it towards flotation. After four years he left following another disagreement with a main board director. Mr Shannon wanted to develop different strands to the business, such as menswear, but the board disagreed. He went on to work for the fashion designer Katherine Hamnett, while Laura Ashley went into the doldrums.

The Katherine Hamnett job, where he was to help decide on strategy, was barely past its induction phase when it was interrupted. He says Moss Bros, the clothing retailer, approached him through head-hunters to run the company as chief executive.

He resigned from Katherine Hamnett and accepted the new offer, only to hear Moss Bros had bought Cecil Gee and had decided to give the top job to somebody else. Mr Shannon chased, and eventually won, compensation. All Moss Bros would say publicly was: "As far as we're concerned, John Shannon has never worked for us."

Mr Shannon set about finding a company to run. He alighted on Country Casuals, in the process of being sold by Coats Viyella. He collected a management team, gained the backing of Bank of Scotland and a few other financial partners, invested pounds 75,000 himself, and succeeded with a pounds 12.5m bid.

The new team restructured the business, disposed of some freehold properties, sold the credit card debt and put in new computer systems. Mr Shannon says the main problem with the collection of designs was that it was too frumpy. The group's image was standardised, with the help of Michael Peters Design Group, and for a while things went well.

The management team bought a 50 per cent shareholding in Oasis and at one stage planned to float both Country Casuals and Oasis at the same time. In the event, Country Casuals floated in 1992, putting a pounds 4.5m valuation on Mr Shannon's stake, and Oasis had to wait until this year to float. (Oasis, in which Mr Shannon has a 7 per cent shareholding, is now worth three times as much as its former dominant partner).

Country Casuals went on to buy a company in Birmingham, House of Lerose, and to start Elvi, a brand name for larger women. "We saw this as an opportunity," says Mr Shannon, who claims there was only one competitor truly marketing to the 40 per cent of women in the UK of size 16 or more.

Elvi was launched on to the market at the end of 1993 but Mr Shannon says "in hindsight" it did not work. Women turned out to be reluctant to spend on high-quality large size clothes, preferring to buy cheaper clothes as a stop-gap until they lost weight. Elvi moved further downmarket but the project, says Mr Shannon, played a part in his departure.

The crunch came for Mr Shannon when he and the board could not agree on the length of a new service agreement. He asked for a two-year contract and was offered only one year.

It became an issue of whether the board had confidence in him and when it seemed clear they did not he left. "Eighty-seven per cent of company directors had three-year contracts at this time and even somebody who had taken over the running of Elvi was put on a 19-month one," he says.

The current Country Casuals board members blame Mr Shannon for some of their problems and feel they are better off without him. He plays down stories of bad feeling. "I see most of them a number of times a year. But if I get the company back none of the board will stay." Given that what he offers shareholders now is cash and a way out of their investment, the issue for them is whether the company is making substantial progress, as it says it is, or whether they agree with him that Country Casuals "is going backwards, not forwards".

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
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

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone