It was a nice line from a profile piece in The Times – Peter Cullum was “the deal junky's deal junky…”
Today he officially stepped into the ring with one eye firmly on his next big deal – wresting a controlling interest in Norwich City Football Club out of the hands of the club's principal shareholders, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones.
And every other shareholder, for that matter. Maybe 'wresting' is too strong a word; in fairness to the one-time Norwich City school-boy star he wants this process to be as painless as possible; for everyone to stay friends.
But under the takeover rules that pertain to Plc's, gun for anything more than a 29.9% stake in the business concerned and you have to make an outright offer to buy the whole shooting match.
Which will be one reason why this particular 'fix' for the daddy of the deal junky jungle might offer more highs and lows than most.
Since setting up Towergate in 1997 with just two insurance colleagues for company, the Canaries' 57-year-old suitor has overseen the buy-outs of over 130 companies. According to a profile of 'The King Of Deals' in March's edition of BusinessXL, “14 were purchased in the past 12 months alone… “
The biggest buy-out to date was that of the insurance software house OpenGI – a ?275 million investment that, in certain senses, makes a potential purchase of Norwich City very small beer.
Usually, however, Towergate can be found picking off small to medium regional businesses; regional brokers and under-writing agencies; hand someone an exit strategy; re-work the finances; look for a 20 to 30 per cent return on your investment. Job done; move on. Next…
“We pick up the phone and talk to a lot of people and they tell us politely they are not for sale,” he told BusinessXL – a process that, presumeably, was repeated last October when he made his initial approach with Norwich stuck fast at the foot of the table; destination League One.
Up to now, Towergate's legendary deal-making prowess has garnered little attention apart from those in the Mergers & Acquisitions sector among whom, you suspect, Cullum commands almost Gordon Gekko-like respect – even if Towergate's Maidstone HQ doesn't quite have the same feel to it as Michael Douglas' Wall Street penthouse. Likewise, Towergate's much vaunted 'director of fun' probably doesn't lay on the kind of adult fun that Gekko laid on for the lucky Bud Fox.
The point is, how many people were actually aware of Towergate's takeover of OpenGI? Certainly mopping up the small people in the regional brokers market is the kind of 'news' that barely merits a blip on the radar; two pars in an obscure, insurance industry magazine. Four paragraphs on an M&A website. If you're lucky.
Today and Cullum's ?20 million bid is front page news on a regional daily newspaper; it's the talk of the message-boards and the evening TV news shows; tomorrow he'll make the inside pages of the nationals – 'The King Of Deals offers a deal for Deals…'; 'Deals or no Deals?'; all the usual stuff that Cullum and Co will never have experienced in their private courtship of OpenGI.
Now he's playing by football's rules – in particular, the huge weight of supporter expectation that from now on in, will haunt his every move.
After all, one of them appears to be in line for a place on a new-look Carrow Road board; Delia up-front with a supporters' rep alongside – and a couple of Towergate people pulling the strings behind.
Holding to the particular commitment will be interesting. After all, it's worked so well, er, at, um, oh…. before.
The bigger point is that headline figure of ?20 million – that's where the clarity needs to come; what does that mean? Does that include the money it will cost to buy a controlling stake in the Norfolk club; with what's left then devoted to player recruitment? Or is that ?20 mill straight into Glenn Roeder's back pocket? That the actual purchase of the club will be financed from elsewhere?
Because that's the reality – that when a headline says: 'Cullum prepared to plough ?20 million into the Canaries…' he could be 'ploughing', say, ?9 million of that straight into Delia Smith's bank account, another ?2 mill into the coffers of Michael Foulger, etc, etc…
Or is everyone working on the belief that the Smiths and the Foulgers will keep their money in the Canaries, but have no say in how the club is run? It's a question that will be asked of every shareholder, large or small, if – in accordance with City Code Rule 9 – Cullum has to under-take the full buy-out that Carson Yeung never delivered on at Birmingham City.
It is a tale that will have many a twist and turn. But by conducting his courtship through the front page of a newspaper, Cullum has now made himself public property; every step of the way, he has to court that whole swathe of emotional shareholders that make up the ranks of the 'Yellow And Green Army' – keep them on-side as he looks to gently lever himself into the hot-seat.
There are some fine lines that will need to be trod; very fine lines. This isn't Wall Street; this is Carrow Road.
And for the King Of Deals, it's going to be a challenge – expectations are running wild; Fernando Torres is en route. And one supporter will be in on the deal; sat around the board table as the contract is done…
That said, it is a very fine line that the Smiths will now be asked to tread. Spurn the advances of a man with ?1.7 billion up his sleeve – a man who has all sorts of Norfolk blood coursing through his veins – and you risk reaping the whirlwind of supporter wrath; just as the Sullivans and Golds have at Birmingham.
Faced with the prospect of Cullum stalking your every move in the transfer market and always one for the quiet life of those season tickets in the City Stand, now could be the time for Deals to deal; to get out while the going is good, before the friendships strain.
Get a better price; but get it done. Don't drag it out over the summer; don't drag it out over a season a la Birmingham.
Nip it in the bud before the night is out.