Earlier this week, on a brief but imperative trip to London, Jeff Zucker ventured a few blocks south of his elegant hotel in Knightsbridge to the Belgravia residence of Mike McTighe, the chairman overseeing Lloyds Banking Group’s sale of The Telegraph and The Spectator. As I wrote last week, Zucker, now the C.E.O. of Abu Dhabi-backed joint investment vehicle RedBird IMI, recently engineered a $1.4 billion debt-for-equity deal designed to give him control of both the highly influential Tory broadsheet and the prestigious conservative magazine.
It seemed like a fabulous deal for Lloyds and the Barclay family—and RedBird, too. (As my partner Bill Cohan recently noted, RedBird has valued the assets at $760 million, or 10x EBITDA, and IMI is footing the delta.) The only wrinkle, of course, is that Zucker’s bid was backed in large part by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the vice president and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and RedBird IMI’s largest investor. The specter of a foreign buyer—particularly from a Gulf state—elicited significant (and probably predictable) distress and agitation from rival bidders, conservative ministers, regulators, and journalists (including some very audible voices inside The Telegraph, itself). Indeed, Tory MPs have even pressed Rishi Sunak’s national security tsar to block the bid.