Rowland severs last links with Lonrho

TOM STEVENSON

City Editor

One of British business's longest and most colourful relationships finally came to an acrimonious end yesterday as Tiny Rowland severed his last remaining links with Lonrho. He confirmed yesterday his decision to sell out of the trading company he built up over three decades into one of Britain's largest and most controversial enterprises.

The sale to chief executive Dieter Bock of a 6 per cent stake in Lonrho will raise just over pounds 90m for Mr Rowland, who until last week remained adamant that he would hold onto the shares. The deal takes Mr Bock's stake in the company he joined three years ago to 24 per cent.

From his Belgravia home yesterday, Mr Rowland kept up his vitriolic assault on Lonrho and its new management: "Three years ago I came to an agreement with a fellow called Bock. I thought I'd found the right man but he is the worst I have come across in 38 years as a director of public companies."

Comparing Mr Bock to one of his oldest business adversaries, Mr Rowland said: "Mohammed Al Fayed is an angel compared to Bock. That is really saying something."

The former chief executive of Lonrho warned that adding the proceeds of the share sale to his other resources worth about pounds 300m would create a sizeable war chest to acquire new business interests. He even threatened to buy back Lonrho if, as he expected, its share price were to fall significantly from yesterday's close of 192.5p.

The decision to sell comes days after Mr Rowland was shouted down at Lonrho's annual meeting - in sharp contrast to the cheers he received a year earlier when he tried to stage a comeback and was supported by small shareholders but voted down by big investors.

Mr Rowland's sellout will give Mr Bock a commanding stake in Lonrho, a trading company with roots in Africa, where for decades Mr Rowland relished his role as a jet-setting powerbroker who cut deals with tribal chiefs and dictators.

He brought Mr Bock into Lonrho as a successor but later the two tangled fiercely before Mr Bock gained the upper hand in a boardroom split. Lonrho finally fired Mr Rowland.

An often controversial figure, Mr Rowland built Lonrho up over 30 years of dealmaking to create a multinational empire spanning mining, hotels, media and food, much of it in Africa.

Once dubbed "the unacceptable face of capitalism" by former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Lonhro became one of the African continent's biggest trading organisations employing more than 130,000 people.

In January, the company signalled a break with the past as it laid out proposals to disentangle its web of over 600 subsidiaries, triggering heavy flak from Mr Rowland. The company announced plans to list mining assets as a separate company and said more measures were in the offing to streamline its business and unlock shareholder value.

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