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Burke goes to Rank

31 January 2006 by
Burke goes to Rank

Rank Group, owner of iconic restaurant brand Hard Rock Café, has hired former Thistle Hotels boss Ian Burke as it attempts to avoid being a takeover target.

The 49-year-old Burke is to join Rank from Holmes Place, the health club chain, which he joined as chief executive in 2003 following the acquisition of Thistle by BIL International.

Burke is taking over from Mike Smith, who joined Rank in 1999 and is retiring in March.

Smith has overseen a transformation at Rank to leave it focused on gambling and leisure and it is this that many believe leaves the company vulnerable to a takeover.

Rank has also now completed the $750m (£423m) sale of its film processing division, Deluxe Film.

It means that gaming now accounts for about 75% of earnings, with the rest coming from the Hard Rock division.

The only remaining bit of Rank outside of its core area is Deluxe Media, the DVD and video manufacturer. The sale of this business is already under way, although it is valued at only £20m.

The disposal of the main part of Deluxe has effectively removed what was perceived as a poison pill to any would-be buyers of the whole of Rank.

Speculation has suggested that Rank has held exploratory talks with betting shop owner William Hill about a possible merger.

A change of ownership at Rank is likely to see more bits sold-off, with the Hard Rock chain a particular prize.

Joining Rank completes a neat circle for Burke: in an earlier part of his career he ran Gala bingo clubs for Bass.

He went on to head up the European hotels division of Bass before leaving for Thistle. Now he is back to bingo with Rank's Mecca clubs.

His job is to reform the group in time to prevent its shareholders being wooed by a break-up offer.

The last part of his tenure at Thistle was a similar role in fighting for the best price for that company as BIL, which owned almost half of the chain, moved to buy out the other shareholders.

By Andrew Sangster

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