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Who Will Buy Selfridges Group?

Selfridges Group has been up for sale since June, but whether it finally has a buyer in hand isn’t so clear now.

Reports earlier this week indicated that the Weston family was closing in on a 4 billion pound ($5.31 billion) to sell Selfridges to Thai-based Central Group.

But Central Group on Thursday disputed those reports.

“Pursuant to the Stock Exchange of Thailand’s request to Central Retail Corporation Public Company Limited (the “Company”) for clarification regarding news stories by The Times and Brand Inside on 2 December 2021 reporting that Central Group is preparing to purchase Selfridges; the Company would like to clarify that the Company is not currently involved with the transaction reported in the news,” Central Retail CEO Yol Phokasub wrote in a statement to the president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Controlled by the Chirathivat family, Central Group is Thailand’s largest mall developer with over 100 department stores and shopping malls in addition to  hotels and restaurants. CEO Tos Chirathivat is the grandson of company founder Tiang Chirathivat.

In February 2020, the family publicly listed Central Retail, its private retail arm, and raised $2.48 billion in the process. Central Retail has over 2,115 stores across fashion retail, property and building material. Separately, Central Retail said on Thursday that it had closed on a “major business deal” to acquire stakes in Grab Taxi Holdings for 4.50 billion baht ($132.8 million). Grab is considered the first decacorn—startups valued at $10 billion and above—among the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, a regional grouping that promotes cooperation across economic, political and security.

Given Central’s ownership of Italian department store Rinascente, the company would make a suitable suitor for Selfridges. A deal would have reunited the British department store operator with Italian retail veteran Vittorio Radice, who currently serves as vice chairman of La Rinascente S.p.A. after running Selfridges from 1996 through 2003 before by the Weston family’s acquisition. He is credited with modernizing the department store by bringing in new, more fashionable brands and restoring the business’ popularity in the 1990s.

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Central reportedly surfaced at the forefront of talks with the Weston family last month, and seemed to be the retailer’s best hope that it could be sold before 2022.

Rumblings first surfaced in the spring that the Weston family had planned to sell its European department store operations. The family officially put the company up for sale after receiving an unsolicited 4 billion pound ($5.3 billion) offer in June in the wake of the April death of W. Galen Weston, family patriarch and former  George Weston Ltd. CEO.

Weston retired from the family’s food empire in 2016. Over the years, he had a penchant for acquiring department stores. Son Galen is now chairman and CEO of George Weston Ltd., while daughter Alannah is chairwoman of Selfridges Group. The two are cousins of George Weston, the CEO of Primark parent Associated British Foods.

But the unsolicited offer appears to have been rejected, and a formal process that began in June also saw sovereign wealth funds such as the Qatar Investment Authority, the owner of Harrods, and Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford as possible contenders. There is no indication that any of these prospectors is still interested in acquiring Selfridges, or at least not at the current asking price.

Selfridges Group operates in the U.K., Ireland and The Netherlands. The U.K. banner operates under the Selfridges name, while in Ireland the department stores do business under Brown Thomas and Arnotts. Dutch consumers shop the company’s de Bijenkorf nameplate. The Canadian department store operation known as Holt Renfrew, also owned by the Weston family, is not part of the Selfridges sale. The purchase price is also expected to include Selfridge’s Oxford Street flagship store.

Selfridges was founded in 1909 by American businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge.