Seeing 1% of John Whittaker

When John Whittaker took Peel Holdings private in 2004 the perceived wisdom among onlookers was that he didn't like running PLCs. The regulation, the scrutiny, the short view of share-price watchers. Not to mention the sheer publicity of being public for a man who famously dislikes media scrutiny.

It feels like a distant memory but Peel Holdings was listed on the London Stock Exchange for more than 20 years, from 1983. When Peel acquired Mersey Docks & Harbour Company in 2005 it soon went private also, subsumed into the Peel Ports division.

But like it or not, some of the country's best assets are still afloat on the London Stock Exchange and the City clearly has its attractions to the billionaire Isle of Man-based dealmaker.

We can now see Whittaker working his corporate magic at three public listed companies: UK Coal, Pinewood Shepperton and Capital Shopping Centres. Pits. Films. Shops. Never dull inside the Peel empire is it? He also has shares in Land Securities and there are no doubt many other companies where he has stakes too small to require declaration.

And he's had a busy year of it in the City; selling Trafford Centre to CSC and exerting his influence on the board, lining up waste developments on UK Coal sites and knitting Pinewood into his growing media interests.

From a news reporting perspective stock exchange requirements offer the chance to see the mechanics of deals, appointments, financing, not to mention trading performance and results, up close, as they happen rather than having to wait for the comparatively slow and opaque Companies House records.

At a very conservative estimate, I would say Whittaker has 300 companies in his interests. We can have a decent look at three.

It will be intriguing to see the extent to which the attention of shareholders in those listed companies forces Whittaker to have to engage with media and court the analyst and investment community as CSC and Pinewood deals, in particular, play out in the public arena in the coming months. Let's hope it's a greater extent than we've been used to, and enjoy it while it lasts.

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