Selfridges in £4bn Sale to Thai Retail Giant Central Group

The billionaire Weston family, owners of British retail giant Selfridges & Co., have agreed to sell the department store operator to Thai conglomerate Central Group, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Canadian Weston family, which has owned Selfridges for the past 18 years, put the company up for sale for £4 billion in July of this year by launching a formal auction, managed by Credit Suisse.

Central’s agreed deal with London-based Selfridges is expected to close by the end of the year, expanding its collection on the continent, which already includes Swiss group Globus, Germany’s KaDeWe, and Sweden’s Illum.

Billionaire Tos Chirathivat, who has been at Central Group retail empire’s helm since 2014, has commented on the family business’ expansion beyond Thailand.

“We’re in Europe not because of the Europeans. We’re in Europe, because Europe is the center for the rest of the world,” the 57-year-old grandson of founder Tiang said.

The remarks were revealed recently three years after Central Group acquired the Italian department store chain La Rinascente.

An industry source says Chirathivat family’s Central, which has thousands of grocery stores, is the suitor linked to Selfridges with fewer “potential reputational challenges,” adding that the deal should be “quite positively received.”

Qatar Investment Authority, which owns London-based Harrods, and Hong Kong-based upscale retailer Lane Crawford also weighed in on a bid. According to European media, Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds showed interest in the sale process but have been reportedly excluded.

Central could hire a property partner to manage Selfridges’ state, which spans five brands with 25 stores worldwide and is valued at £2 billion, while the retail empire would lead its operations.

Previously, Central teamed up with Austrian real estate group Signa Holdings to acquire KaDeWe and Globus.

Central Group opened its first shopping mall in Bangkok in 1957, directed by founder Tiang’s son Samrit. It has since expanded, opening department stores and shopping malls in various Thai cities.

Now, the retail empire encompasses 3,700 worldwide shops, ranging from electronics or fashion stores to groceries. According to a report by Nikkei Asian Review in 2017, the Chirathivat family’s 51 relatives are still involved in Central’s business management.

Tos joined the family business in 1989 but has faced political turbulence in the kingdom. In 2010, one of its flagship shopping malls in the Thai capital burned down alongside several government buildings, the stock exchange, and a television channel’s headquarters amid protests by royal-supporters “yellow shirts” against anti-government demonstrators “red shirts.”

Sources said the latest deal with Selfridges could mark the return of Vitorrio Radice, who ran the retailer until 2003 and is widely known for modernizing the department store chain and leading it to become a shopping mecca.