Pessina's Promise

Italian billionaire Stefano Pessina followed Alliance's merger with Boots by taking over the whole group in a bold PE-funded £11bn deal. Can the proprietor of Alliance Boots - now a private firm - breathe new life into this 'old faithful' of British high street retailing? Profile by Chris Blackhurst.

Tucked away behind the Boots on London's Oxford Street is the HQ of Alliance Boots, the recently created pharmaceutical and healthcare giant. There's a small door next to the store. Blink and you miss it. I've been here before, to meet Sir Nigel Rudd, Boots chairman at the time, for MT. Now I'm seeing Stefano Pessina, the company's new boss.

In July 2006, Pessina had merged his Alliance UniChem concern with Boots, then in April 2007 launched a cheeky £11bn takeover of the whole lot. It was Europe's biggest private equity deal and he was backed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts of the US. Since then, both Rudd and Boots' CEO Richard Baker have gone, the newly named Alliance Boots has left the publicly quoted arena and Pessina, 66, is master of all he surveys.

The contrast between the two could not be greater. Rudd is all bustle and noise and his voice is loud. Things seem to happen around him. His life is an open book - all chat about his latest golf game or shooting escapade. I've been waiting a few minutes and Pessina slips quietly into the room. He has been called the 'silver fox', presumably a reference to his animal stealth as well as his head of silver hair.

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