The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) is believed to be the frontrunner in the quest to own Selfridges Group.
QIA, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, previously acquired Harrods in 2010 and Printemps in 2013 through Divine Investments SA, building a core competency around high-end department-store retail.
The conversations are not believed to be exclusive and Hong Kong department store operator The Lane Crawford Joyce Group is also thought to have expressed interest in the sale.
What isn’t yet clear is whether the talks center on the U.K. operations, under the Selfridges banner, or for the retail company’s other nameplates as well. In Ireland, the department stores operates under Brown Thomas and Arnotts, while in The Netherlands, the retail business is under De Bijenkorf. The Canadian operations operate under the Holt Renfrew nameplate.
With talks underway, there’s a chance Selfridges could change hands before the end of 2021.
A spokesman for Selfridges declined comment. The news that QIA was in talks to acquire Selfridges was first reported in Britain’s The Mail on Sunday.
Word surfaced in July that the Selfridges was up for auction, with Credit Suisse as its investment banker.
Selfridges was put up for sale after the Weston family had received an unsolicited offer in June of more than 4 billion pounds ($5.7 billion) for the U.K., Irish and Dutch operations, as React News first reported. While the purchase price is expected to include ownership of Selfridge’s Oxford Street flagship store, the Holt Renfrew is not believed to have been part of the unsolicited offer.
The unsolicited offer was made about two months after the passing of Weston family patriarch W. Galen Weston. Weston, a British-Canadian businessman, died on April 12, 2021, at the age of 80. A polo partner of Prince Charles, Weston joined the family business George Weston Ltd. in 1961, where he played a key role in expanding its food empire before retiring in 2016. Over the years, he also had a penchant for acquiring luxury department stores, including Selfridges in 2003.
The family, based in Canada, is believed to be interested only in selling the European operations, and not Holt Renfrew. Weston’s son Galen has been chairman and CEO of George Weston since his father’s retirement, while his daughter Alannah is the chairwoman of Selfridges Group. The two are cousins of George Weston, the CEO of Primark parent Associated British Foods.
Selfridges has had its ups and downs over the years. American businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge founded the company in 1909 when he opened the first store on London’s world-famous Oxford Street. The business gained a new popularity in the 1990s when Italian retail veteran Vittorio Radice modernized the London department store by bringing in newer, more fashionable brands.
The Weston family continued to invest in the business after Radice’s departure as CEO, adding upscale restaurants and other events to draw shoppers. But the global coronavirus pandemic squeezed most brick-and-mortar retailers, Selfridges included. The past 18 months decimated high street retail, casting Debenhams, Topshop and Topman parent Arcadia Group, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and others into bankruptcy. John Lewis Partnership and Frasers Group were among the retailers forced to close some of their stores..