Beyond the Entrepreneur: Mike Ashley

Name: Mike Ashley

Company: Frasers Group PLC, trading under the ticker symbol FRAS on the London Stock Exchange.

What does he do? He’s the CEO of Sports Direct, owner of House of Fraser, and owner of Newcastle United, which he has been trying to sell pretty much since he bought it in 2007 for £135 million.

He’s rich then: yep, worth around £1.976 billion, according to the 2019 Sunday Times Rich List.

How did he do it? Buying brands, basically. He left school at 16, and two years later kicked off his career with a £10,000 loan from his family to start Michael Ashley Sports. He did well, but things really began to motor when Ashley began acquiring brands in the late 1990s. He bought Donnay in 1996, Lillywhites in 2002, then Lonsdale – all of them easy pickings for Ashley because they were all suffering financial difficulties. In the Ashley brand stable you’ll also find Karrimor, Kangol, LA Gear, No Fear, Title, Voodoo Dolls, Everlast Worldwide, USC, Cruise, Van Mildert, Firetrap, No Fear, Hot Tuna, Eybl and Debenhams – and that list is not exhaustive. He also recently took a 12.5% stake in the luxury goods company Mulberry, as he seeks to push his retail empire upmarket.

So – he’s very successful? Hugely. Say what you like about Mike Ashley – and many do – but he’s an entrepreneur with a genuine talent for business. “He likes to park his tanks on people’s lawns”, said one banker. It’s a methodology that works for him.

Any controversy? He famously had a bit of a run-in with an investment banker named Jeffrey Blue, who took Ashley to court, claiming that Ashley agreed to pay him £15m if he could help double Sports Direct’s share price within three years.

During the trial it was revealed that Ashley and Blue were drinking heavily at a pub at the time the alleged offer was made. As part of Blue’s evidence, he said that on one occasion Ashley allegedly challenged a young Polish analyst to a drinking competition at a pub, where the rules were that whoever left the room first was declared the loser. The game ended after 12 pints and chasers when the analyst had to excuse himself and Ashley vomited into the bar’s fireplace.

Ashley said the £15m offer was nothing but drunken banter, the court agreed, and the case was dismissed.

Do say: “He might be controversial but he is an extraordinarily successful businessman.”

Don’t say: “Lovely pub. Shall we sit by the fireplace?”

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