SLOUGH ESTATES, the property group, yesterday bought its troubled rival Bilton for pounds 276m after a last-minute swoop on the investment trust controlled by the Bilton family.
The takeover will land Ron Groom, Bilton's joint managing director, with a payoff of around pounds 624,000, its second golden handshake in six years, following the pounds 1m he pocketed when he left the company in 1992. Three other directors, including the chairman, Hugh Free, are set to share more than pounds 400,000.
Slough, which bid 313.5p in cash and shares, emerged victorious from a bitter two-month bid battle, after agreeing to buy Glenhazel Investment Trust, which owns 29.4 per cent in Bilton, for pounds 79.4m. The purchase of Glenhazel, which has no interests apart from Bilton, pushed Slough's stake in the industrial property company above the required 50 per cent threshold just hours before the offer closed.
Last night Slough, advised by PricewaterhouseCoopers - believed to be the first accountancy firm to advise on a hostile takover - controlled 89.3 per cent of Bilton. The Bilton board conceded defeat and told shareholders to sell.
Sir Nigel Mobbs, the Slough chairman, said Glenhazel had been swayed by "the logic of our bid and value", which had been revised from an earlier pounds 261m. However, industry experts said Bilton's fate was sealed by a rift among the offspring of the late patriarch Percy Bilton and the members of the board.
They pointed out that two of his sons and a close associate of a third sat on a trust, the Percy Bilton 1954 Settlement, which controlled the majority of votes in Glenhazel.
Mr Groom and company secretary, Priya Ponnaiyah, were also on that trust. Hazel Lyon, Percy Bilton's daughter, and John Rowe, a close associate of Derek, Percy's son, were believed to be in favour of the Slough offer, while Mr Groom and Ms Ponnaiyah were against.
This left another family member, Donald Bilton, with the decisive vote on the five-strong trust. Insiders believe that he voted in favour of Slough, giving it a 3-2 majority.
City analysts said a key factor in Slough's favour was the decision by Schroders, Bilton's largest institutional shareholder, to sell its stake earlier this week. Bilton closed up 8p to 306.5p, while Slough closed down 5.5p to 281p.
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