Countrywide shareholders reject Alchemy deal as boss quits

Estate agent Countrywide has revealed shareholders failed to give their backing to an investment deal that would hand control to private equity as its top boss also stepped down.

The embattled group said talks with shareholders signalled “insufficient support” for Alchemy Partners’ plans to pump in a £90 million investment in return for a stake of between 50.1% and 67.7%.

It comes after rival Connells confirmed an £82 million takeover proposal on Monday and challenged the Alchemy equity raise, saying Countrywide needed more capital investment than that under the plans.

Countrywide said it was now considering a possible deal with Alchemy on amended terms, a cash-call from existing shareholders and the Connells potential bid.

It also announced that outgoing executive chairman Peter Long has stepped down with immediate effect, with former William Hill boss Philip Bowcock appointed as interim chief executive.

Group managing director Paul Creffield also plans to leave in November next year, but will retire as a director at the end of March.

Deputy chairman David Watson has been appointed as acting non-executive chairman and has begun a search for a permanent independent chairman.

Countrywide said: “Discussions with the company’s shareholders have indicated insufficient support for the Alchemy transaction in its current form, but also a recognition of the need for new capital and a readiness among shareholders to invest in the company.

“In light of these discussions, the board is continuing to engage with all major shareholders to explore all potential options to deliver a sustainable capital structure for the company and to maximise shareholder value.”

Mr Long said the group was in “good hands” with Mr Bowcock at the helm.

He added: “It was always my intention to step back when we found the right figure to take Countrywide forward, and Philip is that person.”

Mr Bowcock said: “Countrywide is a strong business that has been held back by its debt burden.”