Formula One Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone said he rejected a proposal by the auto racing series owner CVC Capital Partners Ltd. to have J Sainsbury Plc (SBRY) CEO Justin King work alongside him.
Ecclestone said he was introduced to the boss of the U.K.’s third-largest supermarket company and another executive from outside the sport “about a year ago” with a view to one of them working with him and eventually replacing him. Ecclestone didn’t identify the other person.
“The people they had wanted, if they had come on board, they would have wanted to be the stars,” Ecclestone, 82, said in a phone interview.
Ecclestone has managed or owned Formula One’s commercial unit since 1981. He has been under investigation by German prosecutors since 2011 in a bribery case related to the 2005 sale of the series to CVC by Bayerische Landesbank that saw one of the German bank’s executives, Gerhard Gribkowsky, sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison last year.
King, 52, has led London-based Sainsbury for nine years. Earlier this month King said talks of his succession was premature, following reports that he would step down.
King has not been approached by CVC, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Asked about Ecclestone’s comments, Sainsbury spokesman Trevor Datson today said that “these latest rumors don’t change anything.”
Happy to Remain
“Justin is very happy to be at this fantastic business and hopes to remain here to play his part in its future success,” Datson said.
CVC spokesman Edward Moore declined to comment whether King was offered a Formula 1 job by the London-based buyout fund.
Ecclestone will be charged by prosecutors, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported May 13, without citing anyone. Prosecutors declined to comment on the report. Ecclestone, who denies wrongdoing, said he has CVC’s approval to remain leading Formula One unless he is convicted.
“They are not worried with me being indicted, the problem is if I’m incarcerated,” Ecclestone said. “They’re quite laid-back. They’re not panicking.”
Ecclestone said today he paid about 11.4 million pounds ($17.3 million) to Gribkowsky to stop the banker getting him drawn into a tax investigation in the U.K. that could have taken three years to resolve. He said his family trust paid the same amount to Gribkowsky. CVC says it didn’t know about the payments to Gribkowsky.
Ecclestone, who doesn’t have a deputy, said he is open to working alongside another executive.
“If someone comes up who I think could do a good job, let’s have him on board,” Ecclestone said. “Lots of people have been suggested but I don’t think they are the sort of people who could do the things I do.”
Ecclestone said he has built up trust with the people involved in Formula One to such an extent that he can “do a deal on a handshake.”
CVC is scaling back its interest in Formula One, selling stakes worth $1.6 billion to BlackRock Inc. (BLK), Waddell & Reed Financial Inc. (WDR) and Norges Bank Investment Management last year. Shareholders suspended a planned IPO last year because of market conditions. Ecclestone said the German case needs to be resolved before the IPO can go ahead.
“It would be silly to go into the market, you don’t want any single question” hanging over the sport, Ecclestone said.
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