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Salvesen family split over decision on pounds 1bn Hays bid

The Salvesen family which owns a controlling stake in the Christian Salvesen distribution business appeared split on the pounds 1bn takeover appoach from the Hays transport group yesterday ahead of a crunch board meeting to discuss the offer today.

Though the board is expected to reject the Hays approach, some members of the founding Salvesen family have expressed interest in agreeing a deal at a higher price. It is possible the company may be prepared to discuss higher terms or hope to flush out a higher offer from a rival bidder.

Some 200 members of the Salvesen family control 38 per cent of the company's shares and hold the key to any deal. The current offer is pitched at around 365p per share valuing the company at just over pounds 1bn though Hays is willing to negotiate on terms. Any split could be exploited by Hays.

Key decision-makers include Andrew and Robin Salvesen who sit on the board as non-executives and account for 3.4 per cent and 1 per cent of the shares respectively.

Family shareholders contacted yesterday expressed differing opinions on the Hays offer. The largest single shareholder is Alastair Salvesen, the great-grandson of the company's founder, who controls 4.6 per cent of the equity. Contacted at his seafood company near Glasgow yesterday he said he was waiting for a more concrete offer from Hays in order to make a judgement.

However, he did not rule out an agreement. "I think everyone would be disappointed if the Christian Salvesen name was to disappear. But in today's world you have to be realistic." Mr Salvesen has just completed a book on the Salvesen family tracing its history from its Norwegian origins in1550 to 1995 entitled Flekten Salvesen (the family Salvesen). But he did not rule out a hard-headed approach to a decent offer. He commented that a couple of years ago the share price rose above 400p. "We would be expecting considerably more than that."

Sir Gerald Elliot, chairman of the company from 1981 to 1987 and one of the senior members of the Salvesen family, was more firmly opposed to the bid. Speaking from the Highlands of Scotland, he said: "You've got to take any sort of bid seriously but as far as the industrial logic is concerned I can't quite see it." He added that the family felt a strong loyalty to the company founded in Edinburgh and the largest company to retain headquarters in Scotland. "I should think they [the family] would act together ," he said.

Another Salvesen family shareholder who preferred not to be named, said: "I think there would be a reluctance to accept an offer particularly if that meant basing the company outside Scotland. There is probably less loyalty among the younger members of the family but I think there would be a pretty strong feeling about the name disappearing."

One of Salvesen's institutional shareholders said it was prepared to listen to what Hays had to say. The fund manager added: "Salvesen is a business which has had a few problems. It has done some things to address those difficulties but the jury is out on whether the re-organisation is sufficient."

Christian Salveson shares closed 4p higher at 360p. Hays shares shaded a penny lower at 429p.