The man who sold Britain: Nigel Rudd agrees to flog another UK firm

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The man who sold Britain: Nigel Rudd agrees to flog another UK firm in Signature Aviation deal

Sir Nigel Rudd is closing in on the sale of yet another prized British firm to foreign buyers.

The City grandee – dubbed by his detractors as The Man Who Sold Britain – is the chairman of Signature Aviation.

The firm, which until recently was known as BBA, is the world’s largest services provider for private and business jets. 

 

Done deals: Sir Nigel Rudd (pictured) is a serial chairman who presided over a string of controversial mergers and sales since 2006

Done deals: Sir Nigel Rudd (pictured) is a serial chairman who presided over a string of controversial mergers and sales since 2006

It traces its history back to 1879 and made its name looking after Spitfires and Hurricanes during the Second World War.

Rudd, 73, has said he would back a £3.2billion takeover offer for Signature from US private equity giant Blackstone.

Should it go through, it will be the sixth big deal he has overseen with a foreign buyer.

But it could be gatecrashed by a rival bidder. American private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners said it was mulling making a higher offer after its first approach was rejected.

Rudd jis a serial chairman who presided over a string of controversial mergers and sales since 2006. This included offloading glass maker Pilkington to Nippon Sheet Glass for £2billion in 2006.

He sold a division of the celebrated industrial Invensys to Siemens in 2012 and the rest of Invensys to French group Schneider Electric for £4.3billion in 2013. 

And he combined High Street stalwart Boots with Alliance Unichem in 2006, selling the newly formed Alliance Boots in an £11billion private equity deal just a year later.

He has been chairman of Signature since mid-2014. Blackstone has been haggling with Signature for most of this year and this is the sixth bid it has put forward.

Signature’s board has said it would be ‘minded’ to accept the 385p offer, though a formal bid has not been made and must be tabled by January 14.

Signature Aviation traces its history back to 1879 and made its name looking after Spitfires and Hurricanes during the Second World War.

Signature Aviation traces its history back to 1879 and made its name looking after Spitfires and Hurricanes during the Second World War.

But it comes at a time when Britain is at the mercy of ‘pandemic plundering’, with foreign firms swooping on vulnerable UK companies that have seen their value tumble during Covid.

Blackstone’s offer has also sparked concerns that its work in the UK could suffer.

Around 85 per cent of the prestigious firm’s business is now in the US, though it works at major UK airports including Heathrow, Luton and private jet hub Biggin Hill.

It has about 360 staff in Britain out of 4,300 worldwide. Another 1,000 work in a division that repairs engines – though this part of the business has been for sale separately for more than a year.

An industry source said: ‘It’s clearly a good deal for shareholders. What we need assurances on is that it’s a good deal for stakeholders too. We need assurances about employees, pensions and operations remaining in the UK.

‘If anything, it’s ultimately a sign that private equity will keep buying into the UK.

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‘It shows the UK continues to have high-quality businesses that are under-appreciated by the public markets.’

Signature works at 200 sites globally and provides everything from plane refuelling and hangar use to catering and concierge services.

Its origins stretch back to Victorian businessman Walter Willson Cobbett, who started a company manufacturing drive belts, and began making plane parts.

As well as being a key supplier to the Royal Air Force, it made the first brake pads for Jaguar cars. The company split its materials and aviation services divisions into two in 2006, when it renamed itself from BBA to BBA Aviation.

Its largest shareholder is Bill Gates, who stands to earn around £200million from the sale. At its lowest, Signature’s stock fell to 141p per share. 

But Blackstone’s offer price is 385p – a 42 per cent premium to the price it was at before the approach was revealed. Another lower offer received from Global Infrastructure Partners has also been rejected.

The founders of petrol station chain Applegreen will take it private in a £655million deal. 

Chief executive Robert Etchingham and operations boss Joseph Barrett will pay 524p per share for the 28-year-old retailer, which has 120 UK outlets.

The pair, who will be backed by Blackstone, already had 41.3 per cent through B&J Holdings. The cash offer is 48.2 per cent up on the share price on December 9.

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