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Fri 22nd Jan 2021 - Update: White Rabbit, Cineworld, Mick Norcross, TRG
White Rabbit Projects signs F&B partnership with US firm Graduate Hotels: White Rabbit Projects, the Chris Miller-led business, has signed a partnership agreement with US firm Graduate Hotels to develop and operate a range of restaurants, bars and event spaces within its first two openings in Europe, Propel has learned. Graduate Hotels, which is owned by Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, a vertically integrated global real estate developer, currently operates 28 hotels in the US, in university-anchored towns across the country. It will make its European debut with openings this spring in Cambridge and Oxford. Both hotels’ restaurants, bars and event spaces will be the first to be developed under White Rabbit Studio, a bespoke, creative arm of White Rabbit Projects. Graduate Cambridge will be positioned along the banks of the River Cam, surrounded by the University of Cambridge and within walking distance of several colleges. The Oxford property – The Randolph Hotel, part of the Graduate Hotels collection – will be located in the city’s cultural centre, nestled within the University of Oxford and its colleges. White Rabbit Projects will develop and operate multiple food and beverage outlets, including restaurants, cafés and bar concepts, across both the Oxford and Cambridge properties, working closely with neighbouring suppliers to “champion local, seasonal produce”. White Rabbit Projects, the development platform founded by Miller, the former commercial director of Soho House Group, partners with early-stage chefs and restaurants to launch and grow businesses, including Kricket, Lina Stores and Island Poké. Launched in 2014 by chief executive and founder Ben Weprin, Graduate Hotels plans to open an additional eight hotels by the end of 2022.

Cineworld faces shareholder revolt over £208m share scheme: Britain’s largest cinema chain is facing a shareholder backlash over a scheme that could result in senior bosses being allocated up to £208m in share awards while thousands of staff remain on furlough as all 127 of its UK sites remain closed. Cineworld’s shareholders are due to vote on a new pay policy and long-term incentive plan (LTIP) at a special meeting next week. The shareholder advisory groups Glass Lewis and ISS have recommended that investors vote against the plans. Glass Lewis said the structure of the proposed LTIP, which would deliver a block of shares covering three years, meant executives appeared “eligible to receive virtually unlimited remuneration”. Cineworld’s 5,500 UK staff have been out of work since October, when the company closed all of its sites indefinitely after the announcement that the release of the next James Bond film would be postponed until April. Cineworld staff have been on furlough since November, and there has been a significant round of voluntary and compulsory redundancies at various managerial levels, from supervisors to cinema management. The proposed LTIP will award the company’s senior executives if Cineworld’s share price bounces back to £1.90p within three years. If this level – which is close to its pre-pandemic level of £1.97p – is reached, bosses will share £104m, with the chief executive, Mooky Greidinger, and his brother and deputy, Israel, in line for awards of £33m each. If the share price reaches the upper cap of £3.80, executive directors would between them be awarded shares worth a total of £208m, with the two Greidinger brothers receiving £65m each. “On an annualised basis the maximum payout under the plan reflects about 3,400% of the chief executive’s base salary,” Glass Lewis told investors in a note. “This potential payout is excessive, far outpacing the maximum opportunity available to UK peers.” Cineworld shares are trading at 70p and have never reached a price of £3.80. ISS noted that given the Greidinger family control 20% of Cineworld, there was a question over whether there was “a genuine need to further incentivise” the owners. The proposed scheme, which will require the support of 50% of Cineworld’s investors to be implemented, pays out in full if there is a change in ownership at the company. In the ISS note, which was first reported by Sky News, the shareholder advisory group said it was also a “matter of exceptionally poor practice in the UK market that awards would automatically vest upon a change of control”. In November Cineworld secured financial lifelines from lenders worth $750m (£560m) to weather the pandemic as long as it can reopen its cinemas by May. Its executive directors voluntarily agreed to defer payment of their salaries and bonuses. “The fact that salaries have been cut and bonuses are not paying out is unlikely to be viewed as a compelling reason for a large block award of this type,” ISS noted. Cineworld declined to comment.

Mick Norcross found dead aged 57: Sector businessman and former star of The Only Way Is Essex Mick Norcross has been found dead at the age of 57. His death is not being treated as suspicious and a file will be prepared for the coroner, Essex Police said. Norcross was best known for being the owner of The Sugar Hut nightclub in Brentwood, where the reality show was filmed regularly in its early days. The site was a Ei Group venue but Norcross bought the freehold from the company number of years after operating the site. Norcross sold Sugar Hut in 2019, having previously gone on to develop a property portfolio, including The Grand Hotel in Leigh. The businessman paid out £4.3m for the site back in 2011 and planned to turn the derelict building into a boutique hotel, restaurant and spa. However, despite extensive renovation, restoration work took longer than planned and the hotel is still yet to open. 

The Restaurant Group hires Alex Gersh as non-executive director: The Restaurant Group has hired Alex Gersh as a non-executive director. He will join the board on 23 February 2021 and will become a member of both the audit and nominations committees. The company stated: “Alex is currently the chief financial officer of Sportradar, a global leader in leveraging the power of sports data and digital content for clients around the world. Prior to that he was chief financial officer of Carzoo, an online used car business. He is an experienced listed business chief financial officer and was previously chief financial officer of the FTSE 100 listed business Paddy Power Betfair Group, where he played a key role in the merger of Betfair with Paddy Power ]and in driving the subsequent success of the combined business. From 2018 to 2020, Alex was non-executive and chairman of the audit committee of Moss Bros, until the business was delisted in June 2020 and from 2007-2013, Alex was non-executive director and chairman of the Audit Committee of Black Earth Farming Ltd, an agricultural company, listed on NASDAQ OMX (Stockholm).” Debbie Hewitt MBE, chairman said: “I am delighted to welcome Alex to the company. As well as his strong listed finance experience, he brings deep strategic, commercial and digital skills, significant consumer insight and broad non-executive experience. He adds considerable experience to our board and we look forward to working with him.”

John Lewis hands back £300m to Treasury: The John Lewis Partnership has announced the early repayment of the £300m HM Treasury and Bank of England Covid Corporate Financing Facility, which was due for repayment on 15 March 2021. The company stated: “Despite the head winds of the last year when John Lewis stores were closed for several months, and future trading volatility, the partnership believes it has sufficient liquidity going forward. Trading during peak, which includes Black Friday and the Christmas period, held up better than anticipated. As a result, we expect our full-year profits to be ahead of the profit guidance provided at our half-year results last September, where we said the most likely outcome would be a small loss or a small profit for 2020/21. We will publish our full-year results on 11 March 2021.” 

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