Mike Ashley (businessman)

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For other people with the same name, see Mike Ashley.
Mike Ashley
Born (1964-09-09) 9 September 1964 (age 50)[1]
Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Nationality British
Occupation Businessman
Known for Founder of Sports Direct
Owner of Newcastle United F.C.
Net worth £3.75 billion (2014)[2]
Spouse(s) Linda Ashley (divorced)

Michael James Wallace "Mike" Ashley (born 9 September 1964) is an English billionaire retail entrepreneur in the sporting goods market. He is also the owner of Newcastle United after paying around £135 million to buy the club.

Ranked 15th (in Britain only) in the 2012 version of the Forbes Magazine with estimated wealth of £1.5billion, Ashley was seen as an intensely private person, who never attended industry functions or gave interviews.[3] Philip Beresford, who compiles the annual Sunday Times list, said neither he nor his staff have ever managed to contact Ashley, and describes him as "easily Britain's answer to the late Howard Hughes."[4]

However, since Sports Direct International Plc went public, and his purchase of Newcastle United where he took to sitting in the stands with fans, Ashley has taken on a more public and accessible persona. However since the departure of Kevin Keegan as manager and the club's relegation, Ashley has only made low key appearances when attending Newcastle matches.

Personal life

Ashley grew up in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, where his parents still live in a modest bungalow. He was educated at Burnham Grammar School.

In 1988 aged 24, he married Linda, a Swedish-born economics graduate, and the couple had three children: Matilda, Anna and Oliver. The family home was a former 16-bedroom hotel. The couple quietly divorced in 2003, agreeing one of the biggest settlements in British legal history, with Ashley reportedly handing over the family home, property and assets with total worth of £50m.[5][6]

Little is known of Ashley's private life today. He is known to prefer casual dress of shirt and chinos or a track suit rather than a suit, and often carries his essential business tool of a mobile phone in a plastic carrier bag rather than a briefcase. Ashley is thought to live alone in a large house on the edge of a Hertfordshire village; the building is hidden by trees, and CCTV cameras keep watch over the locked gates at the entrance to the half-mile drive. When the local newspaper attempted to find out more about him, they eventually resorted to placing an advert in their own pages appealing for information — No one responded.[7]

Sports Direct

Main article: Sports Direct

After leaving school at 16, he was a county level squash player. But after injury, he became a county-level squash coach. In the 1980s Ashley opened his first Sport and Ski shop in Maidenhead followed by others in and around London. The chain expanded quickly funded by private money, and by the late 1990s had rebranded the chain Sports Soccer and opened over 100 stores across the United Kingdom. As a sole trader and not having to file accounts at Companies House, little was known about him. The business became a limited liability company in 1999.[8]

Presently Nottinghamshire based group Sports Direct International Plc, with headquarters in Shirebrook, Mansfield has over 400 UK stores including the chains Sports World, Lillywhites (acquired in 2002) and Gilesports. The group employs more than 20,000 people in the UK and at stores in Ireland, Belgium and Slovenia. In 2006 it overtook JJB Sports as the UK's largest sports wear retailer.[9] In mid-2006 it was also revealed that Ashley had held talks with John Hargreaves, founder of Matalan on both taking a 25% stake in the retail business and installing mezzanine floors in larger Matalan stores, on which Sports World outlets could be operated.[10]

Ashley has made his money by buying brands. The first major brand he bought was Donnay. In February 2003 Ashley bought the Dunlop Slazenger brand for £40 million, followed up by acquiring outdoor gear manufacturer Karrimor in March 2003,[11] Kangol for £10 million,[12] boxing brand Lonsdale, most of these brands were bought from distressed sellers. After considering a takeover,[13] Ashley took a £9 million stake and signed a long-term deal with Umbro.[14]

Ashley has a 29.4% stake in Blacks Leisure Group, the owner of Millets and Mambo,[15] and is thought to hold stakes in JJB Sports and 19% of JD Sports.[16] "He likes to park his tanks on peoples' lawns", said one banker.[17]

In late November 2006, a number of business newspapers reported that Ashley was looking at an IPO of Sports World International. He hired Merrill Lynch,[18] who initially valued the group at up to £2.5bn ahead of the flotation on the London Stock Exchange.[17]

On 31 January 2010, the BBC North East and Cumbria produced a 30min documentary detailing Mike Ashley's business successes and lows. Journalist Chris Jackson travelled to Thailand to visit the factory's in which Ashley's material for his brand of Lonsdale is made. Neither Ashley or his representatives showed interest in taking part in the film, declaring that the film was producing a majority of inaccuracies. They did however state that they would be reviewing the film closely. No further comment has been made.[19]

Whistleblower

Ashley turned whistleblower on industry rivals in 2000, handing the Office of Fair Trading evidence of business meetings held by sports retailers to fix the price of football shirts. Ashley attended a meeting at the Cheshire home of David Hughes, the chairman of now bankrupt rival Allsports. At the meeting Dave Whelan, the founder of JJB Sports, reportedly told Ashley: "There's a club in the north son, and you're not part of it."[20]

Newcastle United

On 23 May 2007, in a surprise move, Ashley bought Sir John Hall's 41.6% stake in Newcastle United at one pound per share, for a total cost of £55,342,223[21] via his company St James Holdings Ltd. Under the terms of UK takeover law, having purchased more than 30% of a listed company, he was obliged to make an offer to buy the remaining shares at the same or a greater price.[21] On 31 May it was reported that the Newcastle board were considering Ashley's offer.[22] On 7 June 2007 it was confirmed that chairman Freddy Shepherd had agreed to sell his 28% share to Ashley, which left Ashley free to take control of the club.[23] As of 15 June 2007, Ashley owned a 77.06% stake in Newcastle United, on course to withdraw the club from the stock exchange having surpassed the 75% threshold required.[24] 100% acquisition was achieved in July with Ashley paying a total of around £134 million to buy the club. Ashley appeared to have saved the club from certain financial ruin by paying off large sums of debt inherited from the previous regime,[25] although he was criticised for not doing due diligence when buying the club, as he subsequently revealed he had been unaware of issues such as the upfront payment of club finances such as the Northern Rock sponsorship, and the presence of outstanding liabilities for long past player transfers.

Ashley's ownership of the club was initially popular with fans, despite press scorn for his unconventional approach, by installing Chris Mort as chairman to run the club, while Ashley acted as one of the fans, drinking in local bars and clubs, and watched the team from the stands with the supporters wearing the team shirt. This caused fierce local rivals Sunderland AFC to publicly refuse to give Ashley permission to wear it in the Stadium of Light corporate box for the November 2007 Tyne–Wear derby. Instead of donning more appropriate attire, Ashley chose to take his usual place among the travelling fans for the game. An apparent anomaly with the fans was the choosing 'Smith 17' as the number of his shirt, after a squad player Alan Smith he admired and 17 being a lucky number for Ashley. Ashley's popularity rocketed with the return of Kevin Keegan on 16 January 2008 as manager to replace the previous regime's relatively unpopular choice Sam Allardyce.[citation needed]

On 30 August 2008 Ashley was shown on live television downing a pint of beer while with fans in the away stand during Newcastle's game against Arsenal F.C. in London, contravening Premier League licensing rules stating that alcohol may not be consumed in sight of the pitch. Ashley subsequently "received words of advice" from the police during the game. A Newcastle United statement declared that Ashley had been given the beer and told that it was non-alcoholic despite the fact that Arsenal do not sell non-alcoholic beer at their stadium.[26] This was the beginning of the dispute between Ashley and the club's supporters.[27]

As the transfer window closed at midnight 2 September, rumours started to appear in the press stating that Keegan was extremely unhappy with Director of Football Dennis Wise' interference in team matters. The following morning Keegan had a meeting at St. James Park with Wise and Managing Director Derek Llambias, it is unknown what exactly was said in the meeting but witnesses saw Keegan storm out of the meeting claiming to be sacked.[28] Keegan drove to Manchester to consult with the League Managers Association chief-executive Richard Bevan, while in this meeting it is thought Ashley found out from Llambias of the row and attempted to contact Keegan. On 4 September 2008, Keegan resigned from the club following days of talks with the board of Newcastle United headed by Llambias.[29] This led to prolonged protests by fans directed chiefly against Ashley and Wise, being dubbed the "Cockney Mafia." The club was warned by the League Managers Association on 5 September 2008 to develop a structure which would satisfy the next manager to replace Keegan to avoid a similar situation repeating itself and damaging the club's image.[30]

On 14 September 2008 Ashley made a statement announcing he had put the club up for sale, a day after the first home game since Keegan's resignation, which Ashley did not attend, this was at 2-1 defeat to newly promoted Hull City. In his statement, Ashley stated "I have listened to you. You want me out. That is what I am now trying to do."[31] He also stated that while he had the utmost respect for Keegan, he no longer wanted to subsidise the club due to believing it would not be safe for him or his family to attend matches in future. Ashley appointed Joe Kinnear to take temporary full-time charge of the squad as he began his search for a new owner.[32] In the following weeks, after an apparently unsuccessful trip to the Middle East to reportedly solicit potential buyers, Ashley later instructed London law firm to handle the sale of the club. Ashley's actions and subsequent media coverage of fan reaction saw the creation of a new organisation, the Newcastle United Supporters Club, to properly represent fan's views to any future board. Interest also mounted around the feasibility of a fan buyout of the club, seeing the launch of the Newcastle Fans United group. On 28 December Ashley announced that the club were no longer up for sale, after he had failed to find an acceptable buyer.[33]

In January 2009, it was reported that interim manager Joe Kinnear had been offered a full-time position at the club by Ashley. Kinnear however suffered heart trouble the following month, given leave by the club to recover. In April 2009 Ashley appointed Alan Shearer to replace Kinnear as interim manager. Shearer however was unable to achieve more than 5 points from the 8 games he was in-charge, and on 24 May 2009 Newcastle United were relegated to the championship. Ashley apologised to Newcastle United F.C. fans on 25 May 2009 for the mistakes made throughout the season, but nonetheless praised all staff, including Shearer and Kinnear, for all their efforts throughout the season.[34]

Since the club's relegation, Ashley struggled to find a buyer capable of providing proof of funds to purchase Newcastle United F.C. Throughout August and September 2009, local businessman Barry Moat was reported to have opened negotiation talks with Ashley. In October 2009, a premier league arbitration panel found the club guilty of "constructive dismissal" and Mike Ashley was made to pay Kevin Keegan £2,000,000 compensation plus interest for his mistreatment during the time at the club.[35]

On 27 October 2009, Ashley took Newcastle United F.C. off the market after again failing to find a suitable buyer for the club.[36] A Newcastle statement confirmed, "Mike Ashley is totally committed to the future success of Newcastle United and will be focused on gaining promotion back to the Premier League. Mike will put a further £20m into the club this week."[36] The move to withdraw the sale proved questionable among many as he had stated little more than a week before that he regretted the purchase of the club and felt he never had the required stance and knowledge to own a football club.[37] The club released future plans in the same statement, announcing the club would attempt to sell the club's stadium naming rights to raise funds to clear debts of the club, causing outrage among Newcastle fans across the world who felt the club would lose tremendous heritage with the name of St James' Park changed.[38] On 4 November 2009, it was announced that Ashley's own company would sponsor the stadium, rebranding it the "sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park Stadium" until the end of the season.[39]

Upon broadcast of the BBC documentary, Mike Ashley Uncovered, his dealings at Newcastle United were detailed, with it being announced that he only discovered upon purchase of the club how much debt the club were in, and that it cost him another £100m upon purchase to steady the club's financial security, having not viewed the account books prior to purchase. Ashley and his representatives refused to comment, claiming the film produced a majority of inaccuracies.[40]

In December 2010, Newcastle United sacked manager Chris Hughton, in a controversial move that proved to be unopopular with many fans of the club,[41] and led to Ashley being personally criticised for the decision.[42][43] Alan Pardew was appointed three days later and before his first game in charge against Liverpool.

References

  1. ^ "Sports Direct's Mike Ashley: nasty or nice?". 
  2. ^ "'Rich List' counts more than 100 UK billionaires". BBC News. Retrieved 11 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "Rich List: Mike Ashley". London: business.timesonline.co.uk. 26 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  4. ^ "Britain's answer to Howard Hughes' poised to step out of shadows for sports store coup"
  5. ^ "Flotation to net sports chain chief £800m". Daily Mail (London). 13 February 2007. 
  6. ^ Davey, Jenny (10 December 2006). "Ashley empire may be worth 25bn". The Times (London). 
  7. ^ Finch, Julia; Cobain, Ian (4 November 2006). "'Britain's answer to Howard Hughes' poised to step out of shadows for sports store coup". The Guardian (London). 
  8. ^ "Revealed: UK's first sports kit billionaire"
  9. ^ Seawright, Stephen (6 April 2006). "Sports World International sales climb 45pc and knock JJB off top spot". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  10. ^ Billionaire sports tycoon plots move into Matalan – Times Online
  11. ^ Sunday Times – Rich List
  12. ^ MPDClick: Kangol sold to sports empire (UK)
  13. ^ Sports World tycoon mulls bid for Umbro, Business News, Independent.co.uk
  14. ^ 'Pimpernel' takes a £9m stake in Umbro – Times Online
  15. ^ Ashley empire may be worth £2.5bn – Times Online
  16. ^ Market Report: Sports World owner grabs stake in John David, The Independent Online
  17. ^ a b The Telegraph article
  18. ^ UK Retail News
  19. ^ BBC business report on Mike Ashley
  20. ^ www.metro.co.uk
  21. ^ a b "Billionaire Ashley launches Newcastle takeover". ESPN.com. 23 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-23. 
  22. ^ "Newcastle consider Ashley offer". BBC Sport. 31 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  23. ^ "Ashley to take over Newcastle Utd". BBC News. 7 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  24. ^ "Ashley boosts stake in Newcastle". BBC News. 15 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  25. ^ "Toon Were On The Brink – Mort". 26 September 2007. [dead link]
  26. ^ "Police warn Toon owner over beer". BBC News. 1 September 2008. 
  27. ^ criticised by toon fans/ Newcastle United website[dead link]
  28. ^ Chief speaks out over Keegan row[dead link]
  29. ^ "Keegan resigns as Newcastle boss". BBC News. 4 September 2008. 
  30. ^ [1][dead link]
  31. ^ BBC report on Ashley
  32. ^ BBC report on Ashley
  33. ^ BBC report on Ashley
  34. ^ Skysports coverage of Ashley
  35. ^ Keegan awarded £2,000,000 compensation for "constructive dismissal"
  36. ^ a b BBC report on Ashley
  37. ^ Skysports coverage
  38. ^ BBC report on Ashley
  39. ^ BBC report on "sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park Stadium"
  40. ^ BBC documentary Mike Ashley Uncovered
  41. ^ "Boss Chris Hughton sacked by Newcastle United". BBC Sport. 6 December 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  42. ^ McNulty, Phil (6 December 2010). "Hughton sacking shames Newcastle". BBC Sport. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  43. ^ "Chris Hughton not treated 'decently' by Mike Ashley — Lord Alan Sugar". BBC Sport. 7 December 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2010.