The BHS department store chain, owned by Sir Philip Green, has been sized up as a potential takeover target by South African billionaire Christo Wiese.
The chain is one of several retailers on a list of possible British acquisitions being considered by Wiese, who has a personal fortune of £2.2 billion. He has formed an alliance with former Asda chief Andy Bond, who has been given the task of finding possible British acquisitions.
Other British groups being considered are understood to include at least one of the pound store chains, which have grown rapidly since Woolworths collapsed in 2008.
Wiese is chairman of South African retail giants Pepkor and Shoprite and is the largest shareholder at both groups.
His representatives have visited the UK on at least one occasion this year to review possible targets.
A source close to the situation said: ‘Deals are starting to happen in the UK and Christo does not want to miss the opportunity if it’s there, whether through an intermediary or not. He knows the UK and there are plenty of chains here that would fit into his group of shops. BHS is one of those. The internet means retail is global now.’
Pepkor has a number of budget retail chains – including South Africa’s Ackermans and Australia’s Best & Less – mainly selling clothing, footwear and home products. Annual sales at the group are £1.3 billion and 72-year-old Wiese is listed in Forbes as the sixth richest man in Africa.
Sources were unable to say if any of the plans had advanced in recent weeks and no formal approaches have been made to possible targets.
BHS is closely integrated into Green’s Arcadia business empire, which would be an obstacle to it being sold – even if he decided to do so.
Green, a billionaire thanks to huge dividend payments from his retail businesses, is implementing an action plan to turn round BHS, which has struggled since the recession.
He also owns Topshop, which he has turned into a global success and recently reunited with Kate Moss to design a clothing collection.
Wiese has been closely involved with British retailing before. He once controlled Poundstretcher and was the driving force behind discount group Brown & Jackson.
Senior sources said the recent improvement in consumer spending has raised levels of interest in the UK retail sector, with potential investors keen to capitalise on the opportunity.
Several UK retail firms including high street giants such as House of Fraser and ecommerce firms such as Appliances Online, are examining the possibility of selling their businesses to new investors or floating on the London Stock Exchange.
Meanwhile, Bond played an integral role in the Walmart acquisition of South African retailer Massmart when he was at Asda, which is owned by the US giant.
He is understood to have made a number of trips to South Africa since he left the Walmart group in 2011.
He also set up an investment firm targeting UK retail assets and has high-level links to strategic consulting and the investment banking industry.
Wiese, who on Friday was in Spain on business, did not respond to phone or email messages left with his office last week.
Bond, who was chief executive at Asda between 2005 and 2010, and Sir Philip Green both declined to comment.
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