Exec Plans Leveraged Buyout of Billabong

Paul Naudé, Billabong's president of the Americas, is temporarily stepping aside to raise capital for the operation.

SYDNEY — Billabong International is back in play with the head of its US operations emerging as a potential white knight.

The Gold Coast, Queensland-based surf wear manufacturer said Monday morning that Paul Naudé, Billabong’s president of the Americas and a Billabong director, is temporarily stepping aside to raise capital for a proposed leverage buyout of the company.

“Mr Naudé has advised that he is seeking to hold discussions with potential financiers, both debt and equity, to gain their support for a potential change of control transaction of Billabong. Mr Naudé’s decision was not solicited by the Board of Billabong and Mr Naude has confirmed that there is no agreement, arrangement or understanding with any member of the Board of Billabong’s senior management team in regard to his proposal. He is acting independently,” the company said in a statement released to the Australian Securities Exchange.

Billabong’s shares jumped as much as 17.6 percent on the news in early trade, valuing the company at 417 million Australian dollars or $430 million at current exchange rates. Billabong shares closed 10.14 per cent higher on Monday, at 81.5 Australian cents or $0.84.

According to the announcement, Naudé is being granted six weeks of leave from his position and no confidential information regarding the company will be supplied to potential investors.

Naudé’s proposal is the latest potential bid on the table for the embattled company which posted a fiscal year 2011-2012 net loss of $275.6 million, or $285.5 million at exchange rates for the period.

In February, Billabong rejected an initial offer from TPG Capital of 3.30 Australian dollars, or $3.53 per share at average exchange. TPG returned in July with a new bid of 1.45 Australian dollars, or $1.49, per share. That second offer valued the company at 695 million Australian dollars, or $713 million, but TPG walked away from the deal six weeks after commencing due diligence citing undisclosed “issues” with Billabong’s books.

In late September rival US private equity firm Bain Capital matched TPG Capital’s 1.45 Australian dollar bid but walked away after a fortnight of due diligence.

Billabong’s shares plunged to record lows of below 80 Australian cents on news of the two withdrawals – prompting questions by analysts about precisely what the suitors might have unearthed.

South African-born Naudé – a former pro surfer and vice president of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, who is currently president of SIMA’s Environmental Fund – is a 14-year veteran of Billabong.

Previously chief executive officer of Gotcha South Africa and executive vice president of Gotcha International, Naudé joined Billabong in September 1998 as president of its newly-established American division. During Naudé’s tenure, he has overseen Billabong’s US expansion, the move into womenswear and the acquisition of brands such as Element and Von Zipper.