Signa Founder and Co-owner of Selfridges Exits Troubled Company

LONDON — Signa Holding, which co-owns Selfridges, said Wednesday that founder René Benko has left as chairman and the company is now in the hands of restructuring specialist Arndt Geiwitz.

The move follows reports in the U.K. and German press over the weekend that Signa, the multibillion-euro Austrian property developer, is in crisis due to rising interest rates, sinking real estate values and poor management.  

Signa, which purchased Selfridges in 2021 alongside Thailand’s Central Group, said that Geiwitz will also take over the chairmanship of the shareholders’ committee of Signa Holding. 

The Benko family private foundation will continue to be the holding company’s largest shareholder. 

It remains unclear whether Signa will sell its 50 percent stake in Selfridges as part of the restructuring. A Signa spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday. 

Benko said “Arndt Geiwitz has the full trust and confidence of all Signa Holding shareholders and will organize the restructuring of the entire Signa Group out of his role. Given the current situation, this is the best solution for the company as well as its partners, investors and employees. What’s important now is to restore trust, and I want to play my part in that.” 

He added: “Signa’s property portfolio is, and remains, unique. I’m absolutely certain that the company has a very bright future. All stakeholders are called upon to support Signa at this time. I am fully prepared to do so.” 

Signa has also engaged other external consultants, including Rothschild & Co., to help carry out a “thorough review of all business areas, develop measures, and draw up an integrated concept for the group.”

Geiwitz said Signa needs “calm and order at this time. We will approach these important tasks prudently and rationally. The aim is to find long-term solutions, and that’s why it is both responsible and necessary to initiate a comprehensive consolidation for the company now. 

“I call on everyone involved to engage with this process. The quality of the Signa Prime portfolio is truly unique, and the prospects of the development projects, located in top locations in German-speaking metropolitan regions, are very good,” he said.

As reported, Central Group said it is standing by the luxury retail properties it co-owns with Signa: the Selfridges group of stores in the U.K., Ireland and the Netherlands; KaDeWe in Germany, and Globus in Switzerland. 

Central Group said earlier this week that it is a “proven long-term owner and investor in all of its businesses,” and “regardless of the position of our JV partner,” it is committed to supporting all of its European luxury stores. “We will ensure that they have all the backing they require to continue to operate as normal.”

On Monday, Selfridges and KaDeWe issued similar statements saying their businesses would not be impacted by Signa’s woes, and they had the full support of Central. 

Two years ago, Signa and Central Group joined to acquire Selfridges for a reported 4 billion pounds. They each took a 50 percent stake in the retailer, which they later split into two businesses, a property one and a retail one. The latter pays rent to the former.

The deal spanned the Selfridges Group’s portfolio of 18 department stores, including Selfridges in London, Manchester and Birmingham, England; de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands; Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, and their associated e-commerce platforms and the properties in London, Manchester and five locations in Ireland.

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