Gant Shareholders Vote Against Bid

More than 55 percent of Gant's shareholders have rejected a hostile bid by Maus Fr?res SA, the Swiss retail group that owns the Lacoste brand,...

PARIS — More than 55 percent of Gant’s shareholders have rejected a hostile bid by Maus Frères SA, the Swiss retail group that owns the Lacoste brand, executives said Monday.

This story first appeared in the December 18, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Less than a week ago, Maus Frères launched the 5.2 billion Swedish kronor, or $810.2 million, bid to take over the Swedish sportswear firm that operates 310 stores.

“Representing the majority of the group of shareholders, we wanted to send a strong message that we will not accept this offer,” said Pedro Silva, a 10 percent stakeholder in Gant and chief executive officer of Delveste, the franchisee for Gant in Portugal, Brazil and Angola. “We think that the potential and growth of the brand has only scratched the surface, especially in markets such as the U.K., Germany and Spain. We see tremendous potential in the North American market, as well as in India and China, where we’ve only dipped our toe in the water. We believe the future of Gant depends on our independence.”

Maus purchased 12.5 percent of Gant on the Stockholm Stock Exchange Dec. 11 and the next day made a cash bid of 310 Swedish kronor, or $48.33, a share for the rest of the company, a 31 percent premium on Gant’s closing price the previous day.

Gant responded to the offer by saying it would “make an assessment and revert with a recommendation to the shareholders of Gant before the acceptance period terminates.”

Maus’ offer, good through Jan. 11, required approval by at least 50 percent of Gant’s shareholders. Maus executives could not be reached for comment.

Swedish entrepreneurs Lennart Björk, Klas Käll and Staffan Wittmark are Gant’s three main shareholders, with about 37 percent of the company split among them. They bought the rights to sell and design Gant clothing in Europe in the Eighties before acquiring the global rights to the brand in 1999. They started to grow the company from its traditional men’s wear business into women’s and childrens’ wear. Gant was founded in the U.S. in 1949.

For the first nine months of 2007, Gant’s net profit increased 18 percent to 175 million Swedish kronor, or $27.3 million, on brand sales of 5.85 billion Swedish kronor, or $912.1 million, up 14 percent.

Maus is Switzerland’s largest privately held retail group, running department stores and specialized retail chains, as well as French sportswear brands Aigle and Lacoste, which operates some 1,000 stores around the world. Sales of all Lacoste-branded products were about 2 billion euros, or $3.84 billion, last year. Maus had 2006 revenues of about 5.9 billion Swiss francs, or $5.23 billion.