The billionaire brothers buying Asda have hired the former Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose to chair their EG Group business.
EG, a chain of 6,000 petrol stations owned by the Blackburn-based Issa brothers and the private equity group TDR, has appointed Lord Rose as non-executive chairman with immediate effect as Zuber and Mohsin Issa prepare to expand with the Asda acquisition.
The veteran retailer also chairs the online groceries firm Ocado but is due to stand down in May after more than eight years.
The appointment is a boost to EG’s corporate credentials and its expansion ambitions. The Issa brothers are buying Leeds-based Asda, Britain’s third largest supermarket chain, from the US retail group Walmart for £6.8bn.
EG has expanded rapidly in Europe and the US and has more than £7bn of debt. In October the group’s auditors, Deloitte, resigned, sparking concerns about EG’s governance and management.
The group, which was founded as Euro Garages 20 years ago by Zuber and Mohsin Issa, and is now 50/50 owned with TDR Capital, also has investments in businesses including David Lloyd Leisure and Stonegate, the UK’s biggest pub owner.
EG made sales of more than €20bn (£17.7bn) in 2019 and generated underlying profits of €910m. KPMG took over as auditors when Deloitte stepped aside.
The Competition and Market Authority has embarked on a phase 1 investigation into the Asda deal. The regulator is looking at whether the acquisition will lead to a “substantial lessening of competition” in the UK, and must decide by next month whether to step up its investigation.
Rose said: “The Issa brothers are great British entrepreneurs of enormous drive, vision and ambition. EG’s board has asked me to develop appropriate governance structures for a business of this scale. The business has exciting development plans and exceptional prospects in the years to come.”
During his 40-year career in retail, Rose worked for Burton Group, Argos, Booker and Arcadia. He was knighted in 2008 for services to the retail industry and corporate social responsibility, and was given a life peerage in 2014. He is a former chairman of the British Fashion Council and of the outreach charity Business in the Community.
The Issa brothers said: “We have plans to create significant convenience and food service opportunities for our customers, and Stuart’s retail and consumer experience will provide invaluable insight and support.”
EG also has its eyes on Caffè Nero, which appointed KPMG in September to help it negotiate rent cuts with its landlords.
However, EG’s bid for the 800-strong coffee shop chain was rejected in November and Caffè Nero filed instead for a company voluntary arrangement, a form of insolvency that allows retailers to cut rents and shut outlets.
The CVA was passed with backing from most Caffè Nero landlords, but some were unhappy and filed a legal challenge funded by EG two weeks ago. A court date has not yet been set. The group of landlords contesting the CVA includes Alan Sugar’s commercial property firm Amsprop.
As part of Caffè Nero’s financial restructuring, its founder and controlling shareholder, Gerry Ford, has paid £5m into a fund that can be accessed by the firm when it is needed. Under EG’s takeover proposal, landlords would be repaid in full for rent arrears.