Retail guru Lovering joins Barclays

John Lovering, a UK retail guru with significant private equity experience, has been hired as a vice chairman by investment bank Barclays Capital, where he will focus on leveraged transactions.

Lovering will work alongside Roger Jenkins, head of principal investing and private equity, and will be joined by his partners at Echelon Capital, the investment vehicle Lovering used to lead a management buyout of UK retail group Peacocks, Nick Heslop and Paul Morris.

Jenkins is a former colleague from Lovering’s time as chairman of UK supermarket group Somerfield. In 2005, Lovering was brought on board as chairman as part of Violet Acquisitions’ – a consortium of Barclays Bank’s PIA Investments, Apax Partners, property entrepreneur Robert Tchenguiz and Icelandic bank Kaupthing – £1.1bn purchase.

After obtaining an MBA from Manchester Business School, he began his career with financial and operational roles at consumer and retail groups such as financial director of food and drinks group Grand Metropolitan and retailer Sears and chief operating officer of building materials business Tarmac.

Lovering’s experience of private equity includes Birthdays, a greeting cards retailer acquired by Permira and PPM Ventures, which backed a management buy-in led by Lovering in 1996.

In 2000, Lovering established his credentials, taking on chairmanship of DIY chain Homebase, with backing from Schroder Ventures (later Permira). Lovering effected an operational overhaul, resulting in a threefold increase in operational profit and a £900m sale to Great Universal Stores.

Permira almost played a part in his best-known appointment, as chairman installed by the private equity consortium which bought Debenhams for £1.9bn including debt in April 2006. CVC Capital Partners, Merril Lynch Private Equity and TPG Capital eventually won the auction, ousting a previously recommended bid from Permira, Blackstone and Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs was a partner for Lovering’s most recent transaction, in which his Echelon Capital business, established in 2005, invested £9.2m alongside hedge funds Perry Capital and Och-Ziff and Goldman Sachs in the £404m take-private of budget clothing retailer Peacock in October 2005.

Despite Debenhams’ less than glorious return to the public markets last year, Lovering’s reputation has remained intact if the Barclays appointment is anything to go by. It is also understood that, with Echelon’s Heslop and Morris joining Lovering at Barclays, the investment fund will now be wound down.

By Robert Venes