Savoy bosses to check out

Click to follow
A NEW top management team is poised to take over at the Savoy Hotel Group after this Tuesday's critical board meeting. It has emerged over the weekend that Sir Ewen Fergusson, UK ambassador to France until 1992 and a Savoy director since July last year, is set to succeed Sir Anthony Tuke as chairman. And Ramon Pajares, general manager of London's Four Seasons hotel, has welcomed an approach for him to become chief executive.

Mr Pajares would in effect supplant the present managing director, Giles Shepard, who has become isolated by his continued opposition to the Forte hotel group's wish to take management control of the Savoy chain, which takes in the Connaught, Claridge's and the Berkeley hotels in London. Mr Shepard appeared to lose the support of Sir Anthony last week when he issued an unauthorised attack on a non- executive director, Sir Michael Richardson.

Sir Anthony, 73, is determined to use Tuesday's meeting to step down after several delays caused by disagreements between the Savoy management and Forte, which has 68 per cent of the Savoy's shares but only 42 per cent of the votes because of a voting structure introduced 40 years ago to thwart the takeover ambitions of the late property magnate Sir Charles Clore.

At Tuesday's meeting Rocco Forte, Forte's chief executive, is expected to propose a plan for the two companies' luxury hotels to come under joint management. This has been resisted by Mr Shepard and trusts created by the late Sir Hugh Wontner, his predecessor. The voting system means that the support of minority shareholders could prove crucial.

A group of private investors who hold nearly 4,000 high voting Savoy B shares will try to scupper any deal between the hotel group and the leisure chain Forte at Tuesday's meeting.

Paul Fellerman, a stockbroker with Southard, Gilbey, McNish, believes that any deal could prejudice the investment in the group and that the present price of B shares does not reflect adequately the true worth of the shares.

Mr Fellerman began acquiring B shares last November for himself and 11 other investors. He wrote to more than 100 holders of B shares offering to buy all or part of their holdings.

On Friday he said: 'We will take any action to protect our investment that we think appropriate.' He did not rule out legal action.

The Savoy B shares have 20 times the voting power of the A shares, and Mr Fellerman believes that in a proper market they should be worth at least 10 times the A shares. On Friday the A shares closed at pounds 9.70 and the B shares at pounds 50.

Mr Fellerman has been in touch with other minority holders of B shares. He has spoken to National Westminster Bank, which holds more than 4 per cent of the Savoy votes as nominees for Cork Gully, which is the receiver of St Anselm Developments.

Although Mr Fellerman's position looks weak, if he can attract other holders of the B shares then control by Forte of the Savoy could be halted - or at least put on ice.

The stake controlled by the receiver may prove to be crucial in the long-running battle for control of the Savoy.

A NatWest spokesman said on Friday: 'We have no comment and will give you no guidance on the shares or anything relating to them.'

But an adviser to the Savoy camp said yesterday that the shares of minorities will be crucial in the battle.

'In effect, if an interested party bought the minorities they would hold the balance of power between the two camps. It is very probable that the Savoy have talked to the receivers about the stake,' he said.

Forte would not comment on the minority stakes on Friday.

Cork Gully will want the highest possible price.

The B shares have been as high as pounds 130 this year, but if Forte wrests control without making a full bid, the price is expected to drop further still.

(Photograph omitted)