Clifford Chance tipped for expected Focus flotation

Clifford Chance has been widely tipped to be adviser to the Focus Group, if the country's second-largest DIY chain proves press speculation right and announces its plans for a flotation worth £1.2bn.
While no formal announcement has yet been made, insiders are certain that Clifford Chance's longstanding relationship with Duke Street Capital, the private equity group that owns 50 per cent of Focus, will stand it in good stead if the flotation goes ahead.
Focus, which owns Wickes and Great Mills and has an annual turnover of £1.6bn, claims to have a 14 per cent share of the booming DIY market, made popular in recent years by the proliferation of home improvement television programmes.
A team from Clifford Chance, led by partner John Connolly, advised the DIY giant on a £170m high-yield bond issue in 2001, which was designed to replace the loans used during previous acquisitions. Clifford Chance won the work in a beauty parade, which also featured a joint offering from Slaughter and May and Davis Polk & Wardwell.
The firm's relationship with Duke Street dates back to 1998, when Clifford Chance advised the equity group on its £68m purchase of the Focus chain from Boots.
But in September 2000, Focus asked lawyers from Slaughters to advise on its £289m acquisition of Wickes. The team from Slaughters was called in again just three months later, in December 2000, to act on the group's purchase of Great Mills, worth £285m.
Since then, Slaughters has done “quite a lot of work on the equity side” according to one partner who said that the debt and equity financing was simply some “tidying up” after the earlier acquisitions.
Jason Glover, the client relationship partner to Duke Street at Clifford Chance, said that the switch to Slaughters was the result of a conflict of interests at Clifford Chance, caused by another deal on Duke Street's behalf. Glover added that his firm recommended that the DIY group use the magic circle rivals for the work.
While Glover refused to speculate on the possibility of a flotation by Focus, he said he would be “quite hopeful” of securing the mandate, if and when it became available.