'A bit of a punt' - the BHS business plan

BHS store Image copyright Getty Images

"A bit of a punt" - the BHS business plan.

That's how one financier described Dominic Chappell's plans for acquiring and reviving BHS to MPs today.

Andrew Frangos of Cornhill Capital was approached by the three-time bankrupt Chappell to raise money secured against property to use as working capital - the money you need for day to day running of a company.

Mr Frangos said that BHS was not the limit of his ambitions and that Chappell had plans to one day buy Arcadia - the parent company run by Sir Philip Green. Ultimately, Chappell didn't use Cornhill Capital and the two of them are in dispute over unpaid bills.

He was joined in the commons by representatives from accountants Grant Thornton and lawyers Olswang to explain their involvement as advisers to Mr Chappell.

Both made extensive use of client confidentiality protection but several important themes emerged.

Bigger picture

Retail Acquisitions Limited did not delve very deeply into the pension problems. Meetings between Chappell and the Chris Martin, chair of the BHS pension scheme, totalled less than half an hour and Grant Thornton's Mark Byers said he was denied the usual access to the pension trustees and their advisors.

On the bigger picture, MPs asked what the professional advisers made of this "punt". Why did they believe that a retail novice with a chequered financial background could succeed in turning BHS around when a feted retail tycoon had failed? We got two interesting answers.

First, a central part of the turnaround plan involved getting the landlords for the 164 stores to agree to reduce the rent. Mark Byers, from Grant Thornton said it would be difficult to have that negotiation, for BHS essentially to plead poverty, as long as BHS was part of the bigger Arcadia group.

Second, it wasn't their job.

So far there is no smoking gun. What is emerging from these sessions is that lots of professional firms were tasked with making sure small bits of the deal ticked a number of boxes. No one, it seems, was there to look Mr Chappell in the eye and judge whether he had the ability, or even the intention, of making BHS work.

MPs will no doubt suggest that role fell to Sir Philip Green himself as the seller. He appears before the committees on 8 June.

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