Last updated: April 24, 2007 7:53 pm

KKR wins £11.1bn battle for Boots

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts on Tuesday night moved to calm fears of job cuts and store closures at Alliance Boots as the private equity chain won the takeover battle for the iconic high street chain and drug wholesaler with a revised £11.1bn bid.

Dominic Murphy, partner at KKR, promised that the private equity firm would not close stores or lay off staff - and would even look to open more community pharmacies - despite having to put an additional £500m on the table after raising its offer to £11.39-a-share to see off a rival consortium. It also said it was not scaling back any investment plans.

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His commitment reflects the growing sensitivity of the private equity industry to attacks portraying it as job cutters and asset-strippers. KKR is also aware that this deal - the first leveraged buy-out of a FTSE-100 company - will face particular scrutiny given Boots’ profile as one of Britain’s oldest and most-trusted high street brands.

“There is no requirement to pledge any time[frame]. The business has an important relationship with the British consumer and we want to nurture, invest and grow it and protect KKR’s reputation as well,” he said, adding that KKR would remain committed to Alliance Boots for “at least five years”.

KKR, which teamed up with Stefano Pessina, the company’s executive deputy chairman and largest shareholder, clinched the deal after a frantic overnight raid which saw it scooping up 10 per cent of the company’s shares, thereby closing the door on a rival bid led by Terra Firma.

The sale will be the biggest-ever public to private deal in Europe. One banker said on Tuesday night that this deal was an important test case for the industry’s reputation.

“They have to behave as a long-term partner rather than doing a quick flip. With all the private equity money and the relative scarcity of deals to go for, they have to change their approach and be more about long-term value.”

Mr Pessina said that he would invest over £1bn of his fortune -- his 15 per cent stake is worth £1.67bn -- back into Alliance Boots. It is not clear how much of the new company he will own. The company’s enterprise value is £12.2bn

The raised offer came on the heels of a frantic night of deal-making on KKR’s behalf by JP Morgan Cazenove and Merrill Lynch. By Tuesday morning, KKR and Mr Pessina had taken their shareholding to 26 per cent.

The minority stake forced Terra Firma, Wellcome Trust and HBOS to drop its £11.15, or £11.26 with break fee, indicative bid.

“Boots is a critically important national institution, and we are naturally disappointed not to be able to execute the bold vision we had for the company and its critical role in the provision of healthcare in the UK,” it said in a statement.

KKR were advised By JP Morgan Cazenove, Merrill Lynch and UniCredit, Alliance Boots were advised by Goldman Sachs, Greenhill, Credit Suisse and UBS.

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