Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Warehouse Group Ltd: Takeover Speculation Resurfaces

Update 27 June 2011, Woolworths keen on expanding WHS stake

I am going to speculate on some speculation in Businessday this morning that the appointment of Ted van Arkel as an independent director of The Warehouse Group Ltd [WHS.NZX] means the sale of the company is back on the table.

Van Arkel has a long history and ties to retail in both New Zealand and Australia and has a hard nosed reputation both as a former managing director of Progressive Enterprises, owned by Woolworths Ltd [WOW.ASX] and as an independent director of multiple boards and chairman of Restaurant Brands Ltd [RBD.NZX] and Charlie's Group Ltd [CHA.NZX]. He has also known Stephan Tindal and chairman Graham Evans for a long time, working with Tindal, through George Court, and Evans through Woolworths.

Van Arkel's links to Australasian retail maybe indeed be just a sideshow in terms of where the Warehouse is heading and he maybe there for his vast retail experience but I don't think fresh blood on the board like this is an accidental appointment apart from his resume.

Van Arkel's links to Woolworths are strong and as that company is a 10% shareholder of the company his connections here are significant. With Charlies, as chairman, he has recently presided over two big deals to get Charlies products onto Woolworth's shelves in Australia and in the stores of competitor Coles, owned by retail giant, Wesfarmers Ltd [WES.ASX]

With Restaurant Brands, under his time there, the company has transformed itself from a dog into a flourishing peacock in terms of performance and customer service. Van Arkel seems to be the goto guy if you want a director to lead to the way to better performance in retail.

He appears to be behind the brand change image of Postie Plus Group [PPG.NZX] which sadly, thus far, has failed to gain much traction or indeed profit.

His reputation as a retail "Mr Fix It" appears not to be a coincidence as The Warehouse is currently stagnating in terms of sales and profit and the introduction of such a director with such strong ties to retail in this part of the world is a significant move if Van Arkel's past has anything to go by.

While Van Arkel's appointment is not a clear sign that The Warehouse is back on the block, what is crystal clear is that his place with the company as an independent director means some significant change for the company in the months and years ahead.

His inclusion on the board does make a sale more likely because of his past track record but it is not a given.

Disclosure: I own WHS shares in the Share Investor Portfolio

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c Share Investor 2011