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Wilko rescue failed because ‘everyone got a little bit greedy’, says HMV owner

<span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The HMV owner Doug Putman has said his planned rescue of the retailer Wilko collapsed because “everyone just got a little bit greedy” and was not thinking about the jobs that could have been saved.

The Canadian retail billionaire, who has engineered a turnaround of HMV in the UK and owns Toys R Us in Canada, was close to a deal to take over as many as 200 of Wilko’s 408 stores in September, which would have saved more than 12,000 jobs.

Struggling under a debt pile of £625m, Wilko collapsed into administration in August and called in PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Related: Greed blamed for failure of Wilko rescue deal as MPs examine retailer’s collapse – business live

Speaking on Tuesday, before former Wilko bosses will be grilled by MPs on the collapse of the chain, Putman said: “I thought we did have a deal, we thought we would get that over the line.”

He said he would have needed to use Wilko’s IT systems for about four months before transitioning to a new system, and agreement could not be reached on the financial terms.

“They were super inflexible,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, referring to the retailer’s landlords and suppliers. “For those four months, the amount of money that the companies wanted to charge made the Wilko deal literally impossible to do. And that was something that was found out really late in the game.”

He said one of the landlords, who hosted Wilko’s servers in a tiny room, wanted to charge rent on the whole 1m sq ft facility for Putman to keep the computers.

“Everyone just got a little bit greedy and unfortunately weren’t thinking about the 10,000-plus jobs that would have been saved and were only thinking about their little piece of it,” Putman said.

“PwC really wanted the deal, we wanted the deal, we had a deal. We had an agreement and these things kind of came out of the woodwork for both of us where we were both a bit stunned. So that was kind of the most unfortunate piece of the whole thing. Sometimes big companies just don’t think an awful lot about the impacts to individuals.”

Wilko’s former bosses including Lisa Wilkinson, its former chair and a member of the founding family that had still owned the retailer, and Mark Jackson, the company’s chief executive at the time of its collapse, will be questioned by MPs on the parliamentary business and trade committee later on Tuesday. The business minister, Kevin Hollinrake, will be questioned on measures to support the retail sector and the role of the Insolvency Service.

Former Wilko workers are travelling from across the country to attend the hearing in Westminster.

Despite its problems, owners of the Wilko chain, led by the Wilkinson family, took £3m in dividends in the 12 months to the end of February 2022. The company’s collapse left a £50m shortfall in its pension fund.