Billabong Lands a Lifeline, Ousts CEO

The move was part of the terms of a refinancing deal struck with a consortium led by former private equity suitor Altamont Capital Partners.

SYDNEY — A week after unveiling her new women’s wear strategy to the U.S. market and after 14 months into the job, Launa Inman has been ousted as Billabong International Ltd. chief executive officer. The move was part of the terms of a refinancing deal struck with a consortium led by former private equity suitor Altamont Capital Partners.

This story first appeared in the July 17, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In a statement released to the Australian Securities Exchange late Tuesday afternoon, Billabong said that it has entered into agreements with the Altamont Consortium for a 325 million Australian dollar, or $295 million, bridge loan facility in exchange for 15 percent of the company and the sale of the DaKine brand to Altamont for 70 million Australian dollars, or $64 million. The proceeds will be used to repay in full Billabong’s syndicated debt facilities.

Subject to shareholder approval, the Altamont Consortium could wind up with as much as 40.49 percent of the company if all the options and preference share issues are exercised under a long-term refinancing package.

The conditions of the deal included the appointment of former Oakley and Nike executive Scott Olivet as ceo and managing director, as well as two positions on the Billabong board for Altamont Capital Partners cofounders and managing directors Jesse Rogers and Keoni Schwartz.

“The board believes that the Altamont Consortium’s refinancing, and the changes being announced today, provide the company with a stable platform and the necessary working capital to continue to address the challenges it faces,” said Billabong chairman Ian Pollard in the statement. “We had highlighted the company’s debt issues previously and it was imperative to deliver a refinancing that retained an opportunity for shareholders to participate in the future of the company.”

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When Billabong share resumed trading on Wednesday morning, the stock soared as much as 46 percent, with more than 83 million shares changing hands throughout the day on the news of the refinancing deal. The stock closed up  34 percent at 33.5 cents.

With a market value of 3.84 billion Australian dollars in May 2007, or $3.2 billion at May 2007 exchange, and a sales peak of 1.7 billion Australian dollars in the year ending June 2009, or $1.4 billion at June 2009 exchange, Billabong subsequently ploughed head first into what the company has since conceded was an ill-timed retail expansion program.

With sales impacted by the global retail downturn, increased competition from new e-commerce and fast-fashion players and a record high Australian dollar, the company has been lumbering under a debt burden of approximately 300 million Australian dollars, or $273 million — with an additional 400 million Australian dollars, or $363 million, in off-balance-sheet lease obligations.

Over the past two weeks, U.S. hedge funds Oaktree Capital Management and Centerbridge Partners reportedly acquired at least 280 million Australian dollars, or $254 million, worth of senior loans from Billabong’s long-standing debt syndicate — the news of which immediately prompted the share price to almost double from an all-time low of just 13 Australian cents.

Inman had been in the process of implementing a four-year turnaround strategy, a program that included a radical restructuring of a company that had previously effectively been run as three siloed businesses in the core markets of Australasia, Europe and the U.S.; a cost-cutting program that has seen the closure of 120 underperforming stores (some 500 remain), and a repositioning of the Billabong brand.

“The board wishes to thank Launa for her contributions to the company and her resilience during the most difficult period in the company’s history,” said Pollard.

In spite of what Inman recently described as “green shoots” in Billabong’s American market — which accounts for half of the company’s sales — the company has nevertheless issued four profit downgrades, lost over 90 percent of its market cap and endured six failed bids from four takeover suitors since 2012.

In February, Billabong reported a record first-half loss of 537 million Australian dollars, or $550.19 million at February exchange rates, for the six months ended Dec. 31, due to massive writedowns.

“I don’t think there’s a single ceo in this country who has been through what I’ve been through in this past year, so if nothing else, I am seasoned and battle-worn” Inman told WWD a fortnight ago.

“Obviously it’s not all of her own making, but she has been in control during [four] possible takeovers that have fallen over — any ceo that oversees a 93 percent drop in the share price is certainly in the firing line,” said IG Markets analyst Evan Lucas.

“They now have a bridging loan, but it’s not a final fix, it’s a patch-up job for the moment,” he added. “There’s still a long way to go and Scott Olivet is going to have to hit the ground running. The next 48 hours will be very interesting.”