Merlin Rides US Rollercoaster With £4bn Float
The theme park operator Merlin Entertainments is recruiting one of Britain's most experienced leisure executives ahead of a £4bn stock market flotation that could be announced as soon as this week.
Sky News understands that Charles Gurassa, the former boss of Lovefilm, is rejoining the board of Merlin, which owns attractions including Alton Towers, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussaud's.
His appointment emerged as Merlin's shareholders monitored the effect of the US government shutdown on Tuesday evening to assess the risks of pressing ahead with its long-awaited initial public offering.
People close to the deal said that an announcement about the listing was unlikely until later this week at the earliest.
They added, however, that the relatively benign markets reaction to developments in Washington, DC meant that a listing announcement could come as soon as this week.
When they do go ahead, Blackstone and CVC Capital, the private equity groups which control the world's second-largest theme park operator, are expected to seek to raise hundreds of millions of pounds from the share sale.
Merlin has roughly £1bn of debt, and analysts expect the stock market to value its shares at up to £3bn, according to people close to the company.
Operating almost 100 attractions around the world, including the Blackpool Tower and Thorpe Park in the UK, Merlin has become one of the country's biggest privately-owned companies, notching up profits of more than £250m last year.
Its board is chaired by Sir John Sunderland, the former boss of Cadbury-Schweppes and chair of the pay committee at Barclays.
Mr Gurassa, who had a brief stint as a Merlin director before it abandoned a previous attempt to list in 2010, will become the company's senior independent board member, according to insiders.
His will be one of several board appointments announced alongside the intention to float as Merlin tries to secure a majority of independent directors in accordance with City corporate governance guidelines.
The decision to list Merlin in London delivers a further boost to the City's booming market for new share issues, with the theme park operator's shareholders also having examined a flotation in New York.
In addition to Blackstone and CVC, the family behind the Lego toys empire is also a significant shareholder in Merlin.
Four investment banks - Barclays, Citi, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley - will rake in millions of pounds in fees from their work on the flotation.
A Merlin spokeswoman declined to comment.