Witchery hunt could lead to Country Road

There might be light at the end of the tunnel in Gresham Private Equity's continuing attempts to sell its ladies fashion chains Witchery and Mimco, which were put on the block more than a year ago.

There might be light at the end of the tunnel in Gresham Private Equity's continuing attempts to sell its ladies fashion chains Witchery and Mimco, which were put on the block more than a year ago.

Gresham failed to generate strong enough interest last year in a trade sale and then for a widely hinted at $300 million float of the 200-odd outlet operation.

It is now believed the South African retailer Woolworths and its 87.88 per cent-owned Australian subsidiary Country Road are now in the final stages of conducting due diligence.

Given the state of retailing in Australia, one might expect Gresham will have to take a buzz cut. It could also result in the return of the Witchery business partly into the hands of the retailer Solomon Lew.

Lew, whose Australian Retail Investments owns about 11.8 per cent of Country Road, sold Witchery to Gresham in 2006.

Gresham is said to have paid about $160 million for both businesses.

RETAIL RELIC

Could the dinosaur hunter and former Woolworths executive Bill Wavish be looking to help out in another private equity buyout of a struggling retail relic?

About six years since Wavish partnered with the TPG-led (aka Texas Pacific) consortium in its $1.4 billion purchase of the Myer department store chain from the now Wesfarmers-owned Coles, there is talk Wavish is sniffing around the dinosaur of the Woolworths-owned local electronic retailer Dick Smith.

Woolworths put the electronics chain on the market earlier this year following a strategic review, which resulted in a $300 million write-down, and plans to close 100 stores. It is believed a shortlist of parties is already conducting due diligence on the business. Wavish did not return CBD's calls.

AXE ATTACK

The chairman of the car parking and shopping centre landlord Sydney Airport, Max "The Axe" Moore-Wilton, showed he did have feelings after all when he spoke to shareholders at yesterday's annual meeting.

After highlighting the efforts the former Macquarie-managed company had taken to axe costs, The Axe was pressed by one shareholder why the Sydney Airport board should be paid so much now that the company was a one-airport entity (after selling its European airport assets). "Do we have to pay you as much?" asked the shareholder, who said he did not intend to be disrespectful.

"I don't find it disrespectful and I find it hurtful," joked The Axe, who at the meeting also had 8.9 per cent votes cast against his re-election as chairman.

The former head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, however, hinted that some of his attention was diverted from Sydney Airport in tackling the issues thrown up by the foul-mouthed radio host Kyle Sandilands.

"Some of my time is taken up in the affairs of that corporation," The Axe said about the 2Day FM owner Southern Cross Media, of which he is chairman.

"But I do pride myself on providing adequate time to Sydney Airport," said the chairman, who received $517,774 in airport-related fees last year, up from the previous year's $432,256.

GLEE AT PWC

PricewaterhouseCoopers has been named Australia's most gay-friendly employer at an event hosted yesterday by Pride in Diversity, a program that encourages the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees in the workplace.

At a lunch at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney, hosted by the retired High Court judge Michael Kirby and the actress Jackie Weaver, PwC also won the gong for having the best LGBT network group.

Its network group is called Glee@PwC (gays, lesbians and everybody else).

In the number two spot was KPMG for its KGEN network. Also in the top ten were IBM for its Eagle network, Accenture, Goldman Sachs (for its Glam network), Lend Lease, Macquarie University, Chevron and the Australian Federal Police.

The event coincided with the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Meanwhile, the National Australia Bank held events in Sydney and Melbourne last night to launch its own LGBT-friendly network, Pride@NAB.

"Pride@NAB is a confidential and self-managed employee network group that we hope will be a place of support, education and connection for our LGBT population," an internal message from the Pride@NAB Working Group's Glen Aiton said.

However, it seems some attitudes at NAB have some way to go before catching up with the times.

Most of the comments to the announcement on the NAB intranet were largely supportive. And then there was this one from an employee: "This is great. I will now be able to take my red [stilletos] out of mothballs & walk through the foyer of NAB House & be proud to be elevated with my heels!!!!"

A FIFTH 'R'

A fifth R appears to have been added to the strategy of the Stockland chief executive, Matthew Quinn. After the property group added redundancies to its so-called three-R (residential, retail and retirement) strategy on Monday, it has now announced a big restructure.

In an email sent to staff following the retrenchment of 30 employees, the chief financial officer, Tim Foster, announced a raft of changes that included the outsourcing of "internal audit" and the departure of the group's chief risk officer, Craig Calder, whose "role is no longer required". There will also be a review of the "finance community organisation structure".

The changes would also include a review of the group's legal services and a restructuring of the group's GST manager, Karl Wood, out of the business along with the group's "head of applications" (in the IT department) Karl Wong. It is unclear how many Karls will be left in the company.

"While it is unfortunate that some roles will no longer be required in our new structure, these changes are necessary in order to give our business a strong foundation for the future. We will be organising farewell functions to say goodbye to those that are leaving and to recognise their contribution to our team," Foster said.

Got a tip? srochfort@fairfax.com.au

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