The man who came from nowhere: The emergence of Dieter Bock at Lonrho is baffling the City, John Moore reports

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The Independent Online
THE NEW man of mystery on the Lonrho scene is a quietly spoken German whose first encounters with the controversial trading conglomerate's chief executive, 'Tiny' Rowland, took place only months ago.

For Lonrho-watchers in the City the appearance of Dieter Bock, who has persuaded Mr Rowland to sell nearly half his personal stake in Lonrho to him for pounds 50m and is paying a further pounds 85m for 100 million shares, the tactics are baffling. 'Tiny's chums who he has done business with in the past have been well known to him over the years. This chap has come from nowhere,' one analyst said.

Mr Bock is 53. The public facts given on his behalf say that, after qualifying in Germany as a lawyer and tax adviser, he established a tax consulting firm in Frankfurt in 1973. Since the late 1970s he has expanded his property activities to South Africa and the US. He has built up commercial real estate activities in Advanta Management AG. In recent years Advanta has expanded in commercial property development and diversified into the construction and hotel industries. Advanta owns 10 per cent of the issued share capital of Philipp Holzman AG, a leading German construction company.

Mr Bock is chairman of the supervisory board of Advanta and controls a majority of its issued share capital. Last year, Advanta's pre-tax profits were DM63m ( pounds 25.3m) and its net assets at that date were some DM200m ( pounds 80.3m).

Mr Bock's Dutch company, Laerstate BV, is buying Mr Rowland's shares and subscribing to Lonrho's planned rights issue. 'I asked Mr Rowland to stay at least three years,' Mr Bock said this week.

Mr Bock could eventually control 25 per cent of Lonrho under the deal and will initially control between 9 per cent and 19 per cent of the company depending on the success of Lonrho's rights issue. He has been invited to join the Lonrho board.

Some in the City see it as an attempt by Mr Rowland to ensure that he has a friendly influential shareholder at Lonrho to ensure that the existing management and himself remain in place at a time of wide shareholder unrest. Others see it as a prelude to Mr Rowland's retirement, which is widely dismissed by those who know this obsessive tycoon.

Morgan Grenfell, the merchant bank advising Mr Bock, has collected pounds 85m from him and placed it in an escrow account to pay for his participation in the rights issue.

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