By  on February 1, 2008

PARIS — Maus Frères SA has won the battle for Gant.The Swiss retailer, which owns France's Lacoste sportswear brand, on Thursday said it reached a deal with Gant chairman Lennart Björk that allows it to take control of 95.6 percent of the Swedish sportswear firm.After launching an unsolicited bid for Gant in December that valued the firm at 5.2 billion Swedish kronor, or $816.4 million, Maus sweetened its original offer by 10 kronor, or $1.50, a share to 320 kronor, or $50.24, a share to buy an additional 59.7 percent stake in Gant.Björk will remain Gant's chairman. The entrepreneur agreed to tender his shares after initially spurning Maus' hostile raid of the firm, which he and a group of investors bought the global rights to in 1999. Maus had amassed a 35.3 percent stake in Gant by mid-January, becoming its biggest single shareholder.But Björk remained defiant and Maus was left to ponder its next move. The new deal clears the way for Maus to realize its ambitions of making Gant a global player with a greater presence in the United States and Japan."We are very pleased to have been able to come to an agreement with Lennart Björk and all the other of Gant's major shareholders, which puts an end to a period of uncertainty," said Didier Maus, chairman of Maus Frères. "We look forward to a fruitful working relationship with Björk and Gant's staff and partners in the months and years to come."Björk cast the agreement as a way to "ensure continuity " and to "further develop Gant" into a world-class brand.Maus said it will now commence a "squeeze-out" procedure to acquire Gant's remaining capital. Maus, Switzerland's largest privately held retail group, wants to leverage its expertise in international operations and logistics planning to elevate Gant to the next level. It sees its track record in growing Lacoste, which now runs 1,000 stores around the world, as a template to apply to Gant, which operates 310 stores at present.Sales of all Lacoste branded products were about 2 billion euros, or $2.91 billion, last year. Maus, which runs department stores and specialized retail chains as well as the French sportswear brand Aigle, had 2006 revenues of about 5.9 billion Swiss francs, or $4.83 billion.Maus has been sizing up Gant for some time. It courted Björk late last year with a friendly offer to buy the company but, after some negotiation, Björk refused Maus' propositions. Maus then mounted a surprise raid on Gant in mid-December, which Björk told shareholders should be rejected.Gant, which was founded in America, has been doing well. For the first nine months of last year, Gant's net profit increased 18 percent to 175 million Swedish kronor, or $25.4 million at average exchange, on brand sales of 5.85 billion Swedish kronor, or $849.1 million, up 14 percent. The deal with Maus pads Björk's wallet for a second time in less than two years. He and his partners, who include businessmen Klas Käll and Staffan Wittmark, floated the company on the Stockholm Stock Exchange to the tune of 241 million euros, or $38 million, in 2006. Private equity firms 3i and L Capital, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault, had invested in Gant and reaped handsome profits in the initial public offering.

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