Caudwell sells up for £1.46bn

TELECOMS entrepreneur John Caudwell is expected to net more than £1 billion, after finally selling his mobiles retail chain to two private equity firms.

The co-founder of Caudwell Group has sold out to Doughty Hanson and Providence Equity Partners, under which the private equity firms will acquire the entire group for 1.46bn, considerably more than had been expected when the "For Sale" sign was first put up in November.

Caudwell, who started in business with a car-repair operation, owns 85 per cent of the group, which he set up with his brother Brian in Stoke-on-Trent in 1987. Brian owns 10 per cent of the group and the finance director owns the remaining 5 per cent.

As part of the move, Doughty Hanson will retain the Crewe-based 20:20 Logistics Distribution Group, which will be renamed the 20-20 Mobile Group.

Providence, in the meanwhile, will acquire the Phones4U arm, which boasts a network of 325 stores across the UK. The deal is expected to be rubber-stamped in September.

Caudwell has developed the group into a diverse international business that employs 8,500 people, boasts turnover of more than 2bn and runs a fixed-line operation as well as repairs and an equipment supplier.

"The sale process attracted interest from a large number of high-quality bidders and I believe that we have achieved a fair price for the business," he said yesterday.

Analysts had also tipped Carphone Warehouse as a potential buyer, although Caudwell had always said he favoured selling to a private equity firm.

He added: "The group has had another year of excellent trading performance, which bodes well for its future prospects.

"With strong management teams across the business, I am confident we will see further growth in the coming months under the new ownership."

He said that he now plans to spend more time fulfilling personal ambitions, with his family and on working with his charity, although he said he has a number of investment and commercial plans in the pipeline "which will allow me to maintain some interests in the business world".

He also has a long-held ambition to sail around the world.

Caudwell Group was put up for sale shortly after One.Tel, which was part of Centrica, and Your Communications, part of United Utilities, went on sale. One.Tel has since been sold to Carphone Warehouse, which is run by Charles Dunstone, for up to 154.4m, depending on performance. Your Communications was snapped up by Thus, the ScottishPower spin-off, for 59m.

Caudwell's profits outstripped forecasts in the year to December 31 after a strong Christmas driven by demand for handsets. Group sales rose 15 per cent to 2.12bn, while earnings before interest, tax and goodwill came in at 149m - well ahead of the 115m predicted by the firm.

Phones 4U chief executive Tim Whiting added: "The existing management team are excited by this opportunity and are all committed to the future of the business."

From little acorns...

JOHN Caudwell, 53, set up The Caudwell Group, which includes Phones4U, 30 years ago. In 1987, he took nine months to sell his first 26 mobile phones but these days the group employs 8,500 staff, turns over 2bn, and sells 26 mobile phones a minute.

Well-known for being hard-driven and uncompromisingly aggressive, Caudwell left school to became an engineering apprentice at Michelin Tyres. He now owns 85 per cent of Caudwell Group.

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