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World’s richest men want to take Four Seasons private

Bill Gates, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal strike partnership with hotel chain’s CEO

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Following on the heels of Intrawest and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels Inc. announced this week a US $3.7 billion bid to take the company private.

With investment from a team that includes Four Seasons CEO Izzy Sharp, controlling shareholder Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Triples Holdings Ltd. (Kingdom Hotels), and the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, the $82 a share offer is “curiously strong,” says a Deutsche Bank analyst.

Quoted in Marketwatch, analyst Bill Lerner points out that there is virtually no underlying real estate to go with the deal and the offer “handily exceeds the prior high water-mark for a going-private transaction in the hotel sector, which was set by Kingdom’s acquisition of Fairmont in May.”

Triples would hold about 10 per cent of the private company with the balance split through a separate class of special voting shares between Kingdom and Bill Gates’s Cascade Investment.

“Having given this proposal very careful consideration, this transaction, with these investors is the only one I am prepared to pursue,” Sharp said in a statement released Nov. 7. The founder of the chain stands to realize $288 million through the deal.

Keeping the hotel firmly Canadian under the CEO and his fellow investors is a good thing, says Scott Taber, general manager of Whistler’s Four Seasons. Although the Whistler property is an independent strata-owned hotel, it is managed under the Four Seasons brand and Taber says the takeover bid is a firming up of present shareholder status.

“What a great opportunity to join forces with two of the most successful businessmen in the world in growing our company,” Taber said. “Sharpe will still be controlling the company as chairman and CEO and vision and operation of the company will not change.”

Day-to-day Whistler operations will not be affected by the takeover but Taber said the move is a positive step for the company.

“If you look at those two businessmen they are looking for long-term investment and they believe in the company and the company formula for continuing to grow and build the best luxury hotel company in the world.”

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