Tycoon raids share fortune to fund £30m divorce

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The Independent Online

He is more accustomed to seeing his fortune diminished by the vagaries of the stockmarket, but Mark Dixon, the £400m Essex man behind the serviced-office company Regus, has been forced to raid his own shareholding after becoming the latest in a line of City executives to sell stock to fund a divorce settlement.

Just months after transforming his company's fortunes by gobbling up its biggest rival in a £163m deal, Mr Dixon has had to dip into his own fortune to appease his former wife, Trudy. Regus announced yesterday that Mr Dixon had raised in the order of £30m by giving up 2.9 per cent of the company to pay off his former wife.

His move grants him membership of a growing club of businessmen who have liquidated huge tranches of shares in their companies to pay off their former wives.

Last summer, the founder of French Connection, Stephen Marks, gave up control of his fashion empire when he sold 9 million shares to raise £36.5m to pay for his divorce from his wife, Alisa. And only weeks before that, David Harding, the boss of the betting chain William Hill, sold shares worth £5m - almost his entire shareholding - to fund his divorce settlement.

Similarly, the founder of the drugs company, SkyePharma, was forced to sacrifice shares in his business as part of a bumper settlement when his marriage came to an end. Ian Gowrie-Smith, an Australian who named his company after his daughter Skye, handed his ex-wife shares worth £6.5m.

For Mr Dixon, Trudy's timing is especially poignant. It comes at a relative high point for her former husband's company, which has crashed its way into bankruptcy in the US and out again. Regus's woes almost wiped out Mr Dixon's fortune two years ago when the share price hit a record low of just 3.5p. That slashed the value of Mr Dixon's shareholding to £74m from its peak of £1.4bn in 2001.

Happily for Trudy, Regus has gone from strength to strength since her former husband pulled off the acquisition of HQ Global Holdings last August. The company's share price has doubled since then, to a recent high of 109p, giving it a stockmarket valuation of around £1bn.

Regus's takeover of its main US rival was significant for the Dixon family because it saw them relocate from their home in Virginia Water, Surrey, to Connecticut. There are five Dixon children - aged eight to 22 - although only two belong to Trudy, a former journalist and Mr Dixon's fifth partner.

One close associate of Mr Dixon said yesterday: "Trudy was the most durable of the lot."

Trudy may feel that getting her hands on £30m worth of Regus shares was the least the company owed her. Back in 1991, when Regus had barely got off the ground, her former husband sold her four-wheel-drive Toyota to meet that month's payroll.

Mr Dixon said, some years later: "She came home and said, 'What's that old VW Golf out front?' I told her it was both good news and bad news: the good news was that she still had transportation."

Unlike Messrs Marks and Harding, Mr Dixon has not actually sold his shares. Instead, he has loaned the stock to an investment bank, Bank Stearns, which in turn sold them on in the stockmarket. The unusual arrangement means that Mr Dixon can buy the stake back again for the same price in the future, and cash in on any future rise in the company's value.

The divorce is only the latest episode in Mr Dixon's colourful life. Regus is the eighth enterprise that Mr Dixon has started since he left Rainsford comprehensive school in Essex in a career that has spanned selling chicken sandwiches and hot dogs, to baking the rolls they came in. In between, he has been a barman in St Tropez, a miner in Australia and a farmhand in Asia.

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