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The Bills parachuted in to troubled Focus

The Bills are back. Retail veterans Bill Grimsey and Bill Hoskins, who in the 1990s led a turnaround of Wickes, the DIY chain and builders' merchant, are to take the helm at Focus, Britain's third largest DIY retailer.

The duo have been drafted in by Cerberus, the American hedge fund and buyout group, which will announce today that it has bought the troubled retailer from Apax Partners, Duke Street Capital and chairman and founder Bill Archer for £230m.

Grimsey and Mr Hoskins, who will take an equity stake in Focus, will be installed respectively as chief executive and finance director. Steve Johnson, the current chief executive, will leave the business.

It is not the first time the duo - dubbed "the Bills" - have been parachuted in to a distressed DIY business. In 1996 they led the recovery of Wickes, organising a rescue rights issue at 150p per share. The business was sold four years later to Focus for 495p per share, valuing the group at £289m, in a deal that created the UK's third largest DIY business, behind B&Q and Homebase.

Mr Grimsey said: "Focus has the potential to be one of the most successful operators in the DIY sector. In recent years, development has been constrained by its capital structure and uncertainty. This deal is great news for customers, employees and suppliers."

The deal for the 256-strong chain came after the group's lenders accepted a deal that will see them receive 40p for every pound they are owed. Cerberus will assume Focus's bank debt of £180m.

The equity holders - who have received hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends and refinanced the business on several occasions - are expected to get little or nothing from this deal.

The shareholders hired NM Rothschild to explore a sale in January after Focus - hit by the downturn in the DIY market - failed to reach an agreement with its creditors to restructure its debts.

The deal is expected to complete in July. Last year underlying profits at the group were £42.7m on sales of £701.9m.

Source : Michael Groves,

18 June 2007
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