Women's fashion chains finally find suitor

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

With Gresham failing to generate strong enough interest last year in a trade sale and then a widely hinted-at $300 million initial public offering of the 200-odd outlet operation, it is believed South African retailer Woolworths and its 87.88 per cent-owned Australian subsidiary Country Road are now in the final stages of due diligence.

Given the state of retail, one might expect Gresham will have to take a buzz-cut. It could also see the return of the Witchery business partly into the hands of retailer Solomon Lew. Lew, whose Australian Retail Investments owns about 11.8 per cent of Country Road, sold Witchery to Gresham in 2006.

Gresham reportedly paid about $160 million for both businesses.

Life in Dick Smith yet

COULD 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 that Wavish is sniffing around the dinosaur of local electronic retailers, the Woolworths-owned 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 undertaking due diligence on the business. Wavish did not return CBD's phone calls.

Axe's sharp edge blunted

THE chairman of car parking and shopping centre landlord Sydney Airport, Max "The Axe" Moore-Wilton, showed he did have feelings after all when he fronted 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 about why the Sydney Airport board should be paid so much now that the company was a one-airport entity (after offloading 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 . . . I find it hurtful," The Axe joked, who at the meeting also had 8.9 per cent of votes cast against his re-election as chairman.

The former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, however, hinted that some of his attention was diverted away 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," said The Axe about 2DayFM owner Southern Cross Media, which he chairs. "But I do pride myself on providing adequate time to Sydney Airport." He received $517,774 in airport-related fees last year up from the previous year's $432,256.

PwC under the rainbow

PWC has been named Australia's most gay-friendly employer for 2012 at an event hosted yesterday by Pride in Diversity.

At a lunch at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney, hosted by retired High Court judge Michael Kirby and 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 No. 2 spot was KPMG for its KGEN network. Also in the top 10 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, National Australia Bank held events in Sydney and Melbourne last night to launch its own LGBT-friendly network, Pride@NAB.

Stockland 'R' rolling

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

In an email to staff following the retrenchment of 30 people, Stockland's chief financial officer, Tim Foster, announced 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 restructure 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 "head of applications" (in IT) Karl Wong. It's unclear how many Karls will be left.

Got a tip? srochfort@fairfax.com.au

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