Sir Rocco loosens his grip on Forte empire

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The Independent Online
DAVID HELLIER

Sir Rocco Forte relinquished some of his grip on the Forte restaurants and hotels empire when he bowed to shareholder power yesterday and split his double role as chairman and chief executive.

As a result, the City marked Granada's shares up 7p to 670p in expectation of victory in the bid battle which closes in eight days. Sir Rocco's move was widely seen in the City as a last-ditch attempt to fend off a hostile pounds 3.8bn takeover bid from Granada, the media to leisure conglomerate, which threatens to end forever the management links between the Forte family and the group they founded. Some saw the move as "too little, too late".

Sir Rocco's position as chairman will be taken over by Sir Anthony Tennant, who is group deputy chairman. Sir Anthony, also non-executive chairman of Christie's, the fine art auction house, said it was not the case that the bid was all over "bar the shouting". The new Eton and Cambridge-educated chairman sees his role as chairing the company's board and liaising with shareholders while Sir Rocco continues, at least for the next eight days, to run the day-to-day management of the group.

Mark Finnie, a leading expert on the bid, said the reshuffle "probably wins a degree of support from certain institutional funds". He said that some people were expecting Sir Rocco to move to chairman and to appoint a new chief executive. Mr Finnie expected the outcome to be "very close".

Granada's chief executive, Gerry Robinson, was predictably dismissive. "This amounts to nothing more than a titular change - Sir Anthony Tennant has been deputy chairman for the last three years and Sir Rocco has been been chief executive for 13 years. Forte's performance during those 13 years speaks for itself."

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