SINGAPORE (Apr 22): One evening in February 2002, the telephone on my desk rang at an unusually late hour. The voice on the other end of the line identified itself as being that of Sir Ronald Brierley, the chairman of London-listed Guinness Peat Group.

The New Zealand-born entrepreneur and corporate raider was responding to a fax I had sent him earlier in the day asking for comment on the offer for Singapore-listed Inchcape Motors by its parent. Brierley had amassed a stake of more than 10% in Inchcape Motors, and was continuing to accumulate the stock at close to the offer price of $2.30 per share, creating speculation that the parent company would have to pay more to get him out of the way.

Brierley patiently addressed every question I asked. But he kept his answers short, and wouldn’t be pinned down about his intentions. He insisted he was a long-term investor in Inchcape Motors, but made it clear that his position could change at any time. He refused to say what he thought shares in Inchcape Motors to be worth, but noted that the company had a huge amount of cash following the sale of its finance unit. Even with shares in Inchcape Motors trading at elevated levels, the cash on its books at the time was equivalent to almost 60% of its market value. On that basis, Brierley said its parent “could pay more” than what it had offered.

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