Byline: LAUREN MILLS
Bollinger, Krug, Louis Roederer - beware.
Richard Balfour-Lynn wants to make the best pink champagne in the world.
And when the property magnate puts his mind to something, he lets nothing stand in his way.
There is one major obstacle with his latest venture, however. His 400-acre vineyard is in Kent, a long way from the Champagne region of France.
'I know I couldn't call it champagne,' he says. 'But we have the same weather, soil, vines and technology, so there is no reason why we couldn't compete with all the top champagne houses in terms of quality.' Balfour-Lynn, who looks younger than his 53 years, perhaps because two weeks in the south of France has brought out his freckles, fizzes with confidence.
Yet the owner of the Liberty department store in London's Regent Street as well as the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin hotel chains is not arrogant, merely utterly determined to succeed in whatever he attempts. 'I am motivated by challenge and I love learning,' he says. 'I knew nothing about retailing or hotels or brands, but I want to achieve things.' His 'can-do' attitude helped him win the bitter [pounds sterling]767 million takeover battle for De Vere, owner of trophy hotels such as the Cavendish in Mayfair, central London, and The Grand in Brighton.
Determined to see off rival property group Delancey, which had teamed up with private equity giant Permira, he twice raised his cash offer and won the group in July.
He bought the business using his privately owned Alternative Hotel Group (AHG). The deal was completed last Monday and tomorrow he will travel to Bolton, Greater Manchester, to meet De Vere's 300 top managers at the group's Whites Hotel. He will G&J Greenall, which makes gin and vodka, including premium brands Bombay Gin and Bombay Sapphire. 'There are huge opportunities for this business,' he says.
De Vere's core hotel business, which also operates the Belfry golfing hotel near Birmingham, will merge with AHG's Verve Venues, the renamed Initial Style conference centre business bought for [pounds sterling]325 million from Rentokil Initial in November.
Balfour-Lynn believes substantial synergies are possible. De Vere's Village hotel chain will be relaunched and expanded from 16 to 50.
'This is a huge plank of our expansion plan, but the branding needs to be more fashionable,' he says.
Over at Marylebone Warwick Balfour group, where chairman Balfour-Lynn's nine per cent stake is worth [pounds sterling]18 million, he is busy finalising plans to launch a new range of Liberty of London-branded goods in the flagship Regent Street store at the end of this week. …