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Background: Lookers the takeover target car dealer

The takeover of AM100 dealer group Lookers by Global Auto Holdings, a sister company of Canada’s Alpha Auto Group Holdings, led by Kuldeep Billan, has marked the start of a new chapter for the UK’s third largest motor retailer.

But this is certainly not a broken business that needs fixing by its new owners.

This deal is a testament to the work done at Lookers by its senior team, not least chief executive Mark Raban (winner of the 2022 AM Award for Business Leader of the Year), to refine the business and its corporate culture, and to set it on a road to sustainable success. It is expected that the management team will remain in place.

Raban, who joined from Marshall Motor Group in 2019 as Lookers’ chief financial officer and succeeded Andy Bruce in the chief executive role after Bruce exited, has navigated Lookers through a restructure since 2020 which cut several dozen struggling dealerships and led to record profits of £90.1 million in 2021.

It followed that with £81m pre-tax profit in 2022 – that PBT performance represented 3% growth after the exclusion of the £9.8m of UK Government COVID-19 support received during 2021.

He has also guided the business through a period which saw a fraud probe identify a £19 million black hole in the group’s accounts, then came a tough two years as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) scrutinised its compliance procedures and Lookers worked with the financial regulator to resolve any concerns.

Prior to Raban’s arrival at Manchester-based Lookers the AM100 car and van dealer had received a number of M&A approaches in the past few decades.

In 2006 Pendragon, fresh from buying top 5 AM100 rival Reg Vardy, had a failed attempt to take over Lookers, which also owns the Charles Hurst group in Northern Ireland.

Led by its then chief executive Trevor Finn, Pendragon’s hostile takeover was valued at around £258 million and aimed to merge the two companies into a single entity.

However, Lookers’ board of directors including chief executive Ken Surgenor unanimously rejected the offer, stating that it significantly undervalued the company and its growth prospects.

Lookers’ future was effectively protected from Pendragon after industry figure Tony Bramall built up a large shareholding in Lookers, ensuring Pendragon couldn’t buy the majority it needed.

The group had also diversified, buying aftermarket parts distribution operations such as FPS, to secure revenue streams in addition to its franchised dealerships.

More recently, in 2020, private equity firm TDR Capital, which owns Constellation Automotive (owner of Marshall Motor Group, Cinch, BCA, WeBuyAnyCar), reportedly considered acquiring Lookers, and built up a 20% shareholding. However, no formal offer was made, and the discussions did not progress to a takeover.

And Pendragon, now led by chief executive Bill Berman, was reported to have raised the topic of a merger with Lookers’ board, but no further progress was made.

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