Debenhams chairman Sir Ian Cheshire has told Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley to make a formal offer for the department store group if he wants to take control.
Cheshire effectively told Ashley, who last week offered Debenhams a £40m loan that was seen by many as a manoeuvre to win control over the retailer, to put up or shut up, the Mail on Sunday reported.
Ashley, who also owns House of Fraser and aims to turn it into the ‘Harrods of the high street’, already has a stake of 29.7% in Debenhams, which is battling for turnaround in harsh trading conditions.
Cheshire told the Mail on Sunday: “If he comes through the front door with an offer that we can recommend, we are not ignoring him.
“We are not Little Englanders that have to defend our borders. This is a grown-up bunch of people doing the right thing for the broader shareholders and stakeholders, including our 25,000 staff.
“We’re a public company. If you want to make an offer for the other 70% you don’t own, then you’re free at any time.”
Ashley made his loan offer to Debenhams public last week, when he criticised the board and flagged speculation that it had “zero chance of survival”.
Cheshire said he had listened to Ashley’s views for almost two years. Cheshire said: “Things got complicated when our major shareholder became the owner of our biggest direct competitor [House of Fraser].
“Then it got really disappointing when he leaked a private conversation because the irony is that we actually remain very open to working with him.
“He has obviously got frustrated – mostly because we wouldn’t do exactly what he wanted. But we genuinely couldn’t, mainly because the board couldn’t hand him a deal where he had effective voting control and secured debtor position which would put him ahead of the pension fund and ahead of our banks.
“I’m sure – at least I hope – that Mike didn’t intend to create this but it destabilises our suppliers.”