and JOHN SHEPHERD
Sir Rocco Forte, Britain's most famous hotelier, was last night desperately fighting off an unwanted bid from Granada, despite the prospect of personally gaining pounds 80m from the deal.
In one of the largest hostile takeovers mounted in Britain, Granada is offering pounds 3.1bn for Forte, the largest British hotel operator which owns two of London's top hotels, the Grosvenor House, in Park Lane and the Savoy, on the Strand. The Forte family stands to gain about pounds 250m for its stake.
Granada, best known as producers of the hit television series Cracker, Prime Suspect and Coronation Street, said the Forte business was badly managed and could be turned around. Gerry Robinson, head of Granada, said some of the hotels would be sold, raising as much as pounds 500m.
Forte went on the defensive, advising shareholders to reject the bid, which "totally fails to recognise the value of Forte". Sir Rocco, a workaholic and former playboy, attacked Mr Robinson's "audacious" move. "He knows nothing about this business. He's not saying anything new. There are huge profit improvements available to us."
Mr Robinson, who works at an easier pace, declaring most work to be "a waste of time", said his company was "financially and managerially ready" for the challenge of taking on the Forte properties. The company has a large rentals, television and catering business, but its hotels operations to date have been limited to sites on motorway services areas.
Insiders at Forte suggested Granada did not have the managerial ability to run an international hotels business. The industry has been one of the most affected by the recession, resulting in sharply lower hotel-room charges and strangled profits for the main operators.
Mr Robinson denied his team lacked the necessary managerial credentials and experience. "I didn't know anything about television, either, before I joined Granada," he said.
Granada runs Granada and the London Weekend Television franchises and has 27 service sites along main roads and motorways. It is also one of the two largest electronics rentals groups and is a BSkyB shareholder. Granada's own television interests have expanded considerably in recent years, largely through the hostile takeover of LWT in 1993.
Analysts were expecting a higher offer from Granada in coming days, and said it might even have to pay as much as pounds 3.9bn to succeed. They said a rival offer was unlikely.
The Forte dynasty, page 8
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