Financial News

  • 9 January 2014, 18:32

Swann Flies On To Market With 2bn SSP Float

Kate Swann, the high-profile former boss of WH Smith, is poised for a rapid return to the London stock market with the flotation of SSP, the operator of food concessions in leisure and travel locations.

Sky News has learnt that EQT Partners, the Scandinavian private equity firm which bought SSP in 2006, is preparing to appoint investment bankers to oversee a listing of the company which could value it at in the region of 2bn.

A flotation would entail the arrival of some of Britain's best-known food-service brands, such as Caffe Ritazza and Upper Crust, on the stock market.

Insiders said on Thursday that EQT was likely to sell part of its stake in a flotation, although the timing and structure of a deal had not yet been finalised.

Ms Swann was appointed as SSP's chief executive in July and joined in September. With her now at the helm, the listing of SSP will be one of the year's most significant flotations amid an expected deluge of company listings as equity markets continue to perform strongly.

She was credited with reviving WH Smith during a period when many high street stalwarts, such as Jessops and Woolworths, fell by the wayside.

However, Ms Swann's tenure was not without controversy. This week, the investor group Pirc urged WH Smith shareholders to vote against its remuneration report over a share award to Ms Swann worth about 11m.

SSP is one of the UK's largest private sector employers, with 30,000 staff and a portfolio of more than 200 brands, which also include Starbucks, Burger King, M&S Simply Food and Millie's Cookies.

EQT and the Australian bank Macquarie jointly paid 1.8bn to acquire Select Service Partner in 2006, with the Scandinavian firm buying the airport and railway station concessions and Macquarie taking over the Moto motorway service station operation.

Since then, SSP has expanded significantly under EQT's ownership, and now has a presence at 140 airports and more than 250 rail stations, with 2,100 units in 30 countries.

EQT is understood to be targeting a listing of SSP in the second or third quarter of the year, although it remains possible that the company could be sold privately.

An unnamed bank is in the process of being appointed to provide independent advice to EQT and SSP ahead of the beauty parade to hire bookrunners, insiders said

SSP, which is expected to announce its financial results for 2013 next week, declined to comment on a potential flotation.

Last year it reported total sales of 1.74bn, for the year to September 30 2012 and a 2.7% increase in like-for-like sales after strong growth in Asia-Pacific, the US and Scandinavia. Underlying profits rose by 10% to 139m, with earnings understood to have risen significantly again in 2013.

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