Branson reportedly edges closer to Northern Rock

That’s what sources have told Thomson Financial News (as seen here on Forbes’s website).

Our Branson has been in the race for Northern Rock for a number of months. In the beginning, he was up against private equity heavyweights JC Flowers and Cerberus, as well as Olivant, a boutique investment group.

But one by one they’ve fallen by the wayside; JC Flowers and Cerberus didn’t even come close to the final bid stage.

The challenge is now to convince Gordon Brown that Virgin offers the best chance for the state to recoup the billions of pounds it has chucked Northern Rock’s way, and for the once-proud bank to have a sustainable future. The group’s opponents this time around are an in-house management team from the Rock, and nationalisation.

Nationalisation is the least-favourite option but it will be pursued if a private sale that brings value to the government, shareholders, the bank and its customers can’t be struck.

If Branson manages to win the bid and then nurture the bank back to prosperity, it will surely be one of the biggest achievements of his career.

If he succeeds at the first hurdle but fails at the second, it may well prove to be his biggest downfall.

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