Never in the field of property takeovers were so many given such a surprise by so few.
He defended his company, whatever the cost may have been. He fought them on the stock market, he fought them in the boardroom, he fought them in the press, he never surrendered… oh, wait a minute.
It was ironic (if not fitting) that in the week marking the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death, Sir George Iacobescu and Songbird finally capitulated to the advancing Qataris and Brookfield. Questions are now being asked as to how the seemingly improbable turned in three short months into the seemingly inevitable and whether Songbird’s somewhat Churchillian response to the QIA/Brookfield bid actually served to strengthen the bidders’ hand, rather than unite shareholders against them.
But it is testimony to how highly Sir George is regarded and his incredible track record that the victors seem keen to keep him on. Let’s hope this is a signal of intent that both parties want to put recent animosities behind them and work together because that is what they need to do if they are to move forward and prove what Songbird has said all along: that there is a lot more value in Canary Wharf yet to be realised.
As to how long Sir George stays, it would be good to see him stick around at least long enough to ensure a smooth transition. But he turns 70 in November, so don’t be surprised if he departs with a healthy retirement pot in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, Brookfield, which has wanted to realise its cash for a long time, may well sell out to QIA, as might Simon Glick. There is also the issue of how the market will react. The Qataris already own a fair chunk of Canary Wharf and many other iconic properties in the UK, including Harrods. That means a vast tract of premium UK property is effectively under the control of one family.
Quite how healthy a situation this is for the UK property market is debatable and it is not the only unsettling aspect of the Qataris’ growing presence here. Land Securities may be the biggest property company in the UK, breaking through the £10bn barrier last week, but the Qataris are rapidly creating something even bigger and that will be a cause for concern in some quarters given the nation’s not-so-pristine track record on dealmaking, football World Cup bids and, dare I say it, human rights.
The other major talking point, of course, will be whether this audacious bid heralds a string of takeovers in the UK property sector. Will this shock victory give other buyers the courage to show their hands in the coming months? Could someone pull off that other seemingly impossible feat and buy Hammerson? Many have tried and failed. 2015 might just be the year it happens.
We can also expect some seismic shocks on the political front, of course. As well as the anniversary of Churchill’s death, this week also marked the beginning of the 100-day countdown to the general election. Next Thursday (5 February), LandAid is hosting what promises to be a fascinating political debate at City Hall featuring Alan Johnson MP, Baroness Shirley Williams, Baroness Jenny Jones and our very own columnist Steven Norris.
Meanwhile, we will be kicking off our pre-election coverage by revealing the findings of a Property Week survey, some of which are very surprising, especially if you’re not a fan of the political status quo. Now I’ve said too much. Read next week’s issue if you want to know what the property industry hopes - or fears - the outcome of the election will be.