Candover and LGV exit Earls Court & Olympia

Candover has sold its 60% stake in Earl’s Court & Olympia (ECO), a UK exhibition venue and event organising company, for £245m (€364m). ECO was acquired by St James Capital, the property investment fund run by Anthony Lyons who will become the new chief executive of ECO, and Nomura Asset Finance which plans to develop a Las Vegas-style casino at the site, operated by MGM Mirage.

Lyons said: “In the first year to 18 months we will invest £10m-£20m and expand the coffee shop operations and exhibition halls in Europe.”

Candover was part of a consortium which consisted of Legal & General Ventures (LGV), which has sold its 15% interest, and a group of senior EC&O staff led by chief executive Andrew Morris, which sold its 25% share.

The return on the investment is over 2.5x. Morris and the rest of the management team earned £8.5m from the sale to St James Capital and Nomura.

The new holding company sees St James Capital, which said it is plans to own the company for 10 years, with 75% and Nomura and Andrew Morris with the remaining 25%.

Morris will become non-executive chairman, and St James Capital directors David Coffer will become non-executive vice chairman. Simon Conway will sit on the new board as chief operating officer, alongside Derek Vago joint head of Nomura AFG. The rest of ECO management will be retained.

LGV, Candover and Andrew and Jack Morris, owners of London’s Business Design Centre, bought ECO from P&O in September 1999 for £183m, including £120m of debt.

Candover invested £34m from its £850 million Candover 1997 fund, with a £4 million investment from its 1982 fund, Candover Investments. This is the ninth full exit from the 1997 fund.

Nomura International plc acted as sole financial advisor to St James Capital as well as sole Arranger, Underwriter and Agent Bank to the purchaser.