Billabong leaves suitor standing at altar

The endless saga of takeover battles, backroom deals, chief executive resignations and investor revolts is not over yet for troubled surfwear group Billabong after it dumped one private equity white knight in favour of a suitor it had rejected twice before.

The endless saga of takeover battles, backroom deals, chief executive resignations and investor revolts is not over yet for troubled surfwear group Billabong after it dumped one private equity white knight in favour of a suitor it had rejected twice before.

Billabong announced on Thursday it had walked away from a recapitalisation offer from private equity players Altamont and Blackstone, which had looked like a done deal, and into the embrace of a rival proposal from private equity duo Centerbridge Partners and Oaktree Capital Management.

Apart from triggering a flurry of new paperwork, refinancing and share issues, this would mean that present CEO designate Scott Olivet, who was aligned with Altamont, has resigned and a new boss appointed to run the surfwear group.

Since May 2012 Billabong has had four chief executives, entertained four takeover proposals, lost four directors, issued three profit downgrades and had two chief financial officers.

Neil Fiske, a 24-year veteran of the retail sector and former boss of US apparel label Eddie Bauer, will now take the CEO's chair.

Billabong chairman Ian Pollard said he hoped the latest twist in the company's protracted saga would be the last, allowing management to focus on the job at hand at turning round the fashion group.

"It's been a huge distraction," he said. "We have appointed Neil as chief executive, we have the financing in place ... and so we are ready."

Mr Pollard said he and the board had worked for a nearly a year to guide Billabong through countless takeover proposals, management departures and restructures. "Basically it's been seven days a week since I joined the board 11 months ago, and not only for me ... [it's] been like that for so many people."

Under the new proposal with Centerbridge and Oaktree, Billabong will receive a $386 million loan, issue a $135 million equity placement to the private equity investors and make a $50 million rights issue available to shareholders. Billabong will then be able to repay an existing $315 million bridge loan facility from the Altamont consortium, which was struck in July.

Billabong said Centerbridge and Oaktree would be allowed three representatives on the board, with two sitting directors to resign.

Spurned suitor Altamont provided a curt response to their last-minute dumping: "The Altamont consortium can confirm that it has declined the board's request to revise the terms of its financing commitment and that it is no longer pursuing long-term financing with the company."

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