JD Sports founders cash in and quit with £45m

The founders of the JD Sports chain cashed in their shares, banking £45m, and walked away from the company they built up over a period of more than 20 years.

The founders of the JD Sports chain yesterday cashed in their shares, banking £45m, and walked away from the company they built up over a period of more than 20 years.

John Wardle and David Makin sold a total of 21m shares - 45% of the company - to the privately owned Pentland Group, which is controlled by sports brands entrepreneur Stephen Rubin. Pentland, which owns labels such as Lacoste, Ellesse and Speedo, is among JD's biggest suppliers and bought an initial 11% stake from Mr Wardle last year.

The two men built the chain from a single outlet in Mossley, Lancashire, which they opened in 1981 when Mr Makin was only 16. The business floated in 1997 and is now a 329-strong chain operating under the Athleisure, Open Nike and Size fascias as well as JD.

Last year, after three profit warnings, the duo brought in Peter Cowgill as executive chairman. Mr Cowgill, who learned of the founders' deci sion to sell only hours before it was announced, had previously been finance director.

Mr Wardle, 60, who is also chairman of Manchester City football club, yesterday agreed to sell 8m shares to Pentland at 211p each. Last summer he sold 5.5m at 185p. That deal was also below the prevailing market price and the Takeover Panel ruled that Mr Wardle, Mr Makin and Pentland were acting as a concert party .

Mr Makin, now 41 and also a Manchester City director, is selling 13m at the same price. The two men were unavailable for comment.

Under City takeover rules, Pentland is now forced to bid for the entire company. But the Pentland offer price is 8.6% below JD's last market price, and it does not want other shareholders to accept its offer. Last night JD shares were down 12.5p at 218.5p.

A spokesman for Pentland said it wanted to be only a long-term major shareholder: "We are making this offer to all shareholders because the takeover code requires us to, but we would be very happy for JD Sports to carry on as a publicly quoted company." Mr Rubin, Pentland's chairman, said: "We look forward to sharing in the future of JD alongside other JD shareholders."

JD's directors said they were taking independent advice and recommended that shareholders take no immediate action.

However, Andy Brough, a smaller companies specialist at Schroders, which has more than 20% of JD, said he was happy to retain a stake: "We will not be accepting."


Julia Finch, city editor

The GuardianTramp

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