Candover offloads Wood Mackenzie

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SIR George Mathewson is stepping down as chairman of Wood Mackenzie, after private equity group Candover offloaded its controlling stake in the energy consultancy for £553 million.

The Edinburgh-based group, which provides analysis on the international energy sector, was put up for sale by Candover earlier this year, as the London-based company sought to raise cash to strengthen its balance sheet.

Yesterday Charterhouse, another London-based private equity company, completed the acquisition, prompting a boardroom clearout.

Mathewson was appointed to the company when Candover took a majority stake in Wood Mackenzie in 2007 but said yesterday he would be stepping down to allow Charterhouse to install its own non-executives.

Wood Mackenzie, whose clients include almost all of the world's major energy companies, still has the opportunity to expand, Mathewson said.

He added: "Wood Mackenzie itself is a growth business, with very substantial growth prospects."

Formed as a stockbroker in Edinburgh in the 1840s, Wood Mackenzie rose to prominence in the 1970s when it began writing reports on the North Sea.

It now provides energy research covering 93 countries and has offices in 12 cities globally.

Charterhouse bought Candover's 67 per cent stake for an "enterprise value" of 553m, with HSBC backing the leveraged deal. The valuation implies that the 31 per cent of Wood Mackenzie owned by staff could be worth more than 250m.

There have been reports that senior staff could be in line to share payouts of more than 100m, although a spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on the details. Sources said that some staff would be "taking some money off the table" as a result of the transaction, although most would reinvest in the company.

Paul Gregory, the former chief executive, who led Wood Mackenzie's 2001 management buy-out from Deutsche Bank, will become non-executive chairman, and Charterhouse will appoint a further three non-executives.

Stephen Halliday, who will continue as chief executive, welcomed the deal. "We look forward to working with Charterhouse as Wood Mackenzie moves into the next phase of its development," he said.

Candover's share price surged on the news, with analysts saying the deal, which could boost its balance sheet by 36.2m, should ease covenant fears.

Once one of Europe's largest private equity companies, Candover has tumbled in value after a string of its investments performed badly, forcing it to seek a sale of Wood Mackenzie.

Chairman Gerry Grimstone, who is also chairman of Standard Life, said that "Candover's stabilisation programme continues to make progress", without referring to Wood Mackenzie.

Shares in Candover closed up 11.5 per cent at 300p.