CAIRO // Planet Investment Banking was until a fortnight ago a company known only to a relative few.
But it has been propelled into the spotlight as a bidder for the Arab world's biggest publicly traded investment bank, EFG Hermes, in what could become the Middle East's first hostile takeover.
In a tumultuous series of developments over the past week, Planet IB has revealed itself as a company run by a high-profile group of businessmen and women led by Ahmed El Houssieny, an Egyptian financier and a former managing director of Citadel Capital, a private-equity firm based in Cairo, and Mahmoud Abdel Latif, a former chairman of Bank of Alexandria and Egyptian American Bank.
Planet IB has said it has the backing of the Egyptian billionaire media mogul Naguib Sawiris. However, Mr Sawiris may pull out of the deal if Planet IB has no option but to attempt a hostile takeover of EFG Hermes without a due diligence process, according to Planet IB officials.
"He has a due diligence requirement. Naguib is not going to do a deal without due diligence," said Mr El Houssieny, Planet IB's chief executive.
Mr El Houssieny added that all the investors are prepared to stay on board on condition that a due diligence process take place as part of a potential offer for EFG Hermes.
In an open, white-washed office in Zamalek, an upmarket neighbourhood in Cairo, Planet IB's team says it is working around the clock to win the approval of EFG Hermes shareholders,thus allowing Planet IB to make a full-fledged bid for EFG Hermes. QInvest, a Qatari investment bank, has made a rival offer for EFG Hermes.
A new, much larger office, with an open floor plan and hammocks, is being prepared for the Planet IB team.
A new website and advertisements by the company in local newspapers offer an explanation of the thinking behind Planet IB's potential bid: "Together to protect Egypt's national institutions."
Planet IB executives say they want to prevent a brain drain among Egypt's brightest businessmen and women, something they envisage will be a consequence of any deal between EFG Hermes and QInvest. QInvest and EFG Hermes said last month that they had entered into a joint venture to create a new firm, EFG Hermes Qatar. EFG Hermes shareholders voted in favour of the QInvest deal on Saturday.
The challenge for Planet IB is to convince those same EFG Hermes shareholders that it is serious about a bid. This would require proving the strength of Planet IB's financial backing as well as laying out its plans for EFG Hermes.
Planet IB's approach has been "very light" so far, said Angus Blair, the chairman of the Cairo-based think tank Signet Institute.
"What are their plans to develop long-term profit growth and value-added development through the takeover? We haven't had that yet," Mr Blair said.
Planet IB also appears to be up against the management of EFG Hermes, which has criticised theoverture, saying Planet IB has not shown proof of its financial capacities or named all the investors behind the proposed bid.
EFG Hermes has threatened legal action to protect its shareholders, while Planet IB has appealed to the regulator to intercede.
Planet IB has said that if all else fails it will not shy away from attempting a hostile takeover. But that could prove costly, and financial regulations in Egypt are untested for such a tactic.
Banking experts say the deal could go either way - the regulator could postpone the deal with QInvest, allowing Planet IB to carry out due diligence, or if the QInvest deal goes ahead as planned, Planet IB might take drastic measures and start buying shares in EFG Hermes on the open market.
Either way, the arrival of Planet IB on the scene has become one of the most exciting business developments in the region.