Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Billionaires: Japanese tycoon cancels matchmaking show that promised a trip to the moon

In our fortnightly round-up, Yusaku Maezawa pulls out of search for someone to accompany him on SpaceX flight and New Zealand’s richest man gets a stock market boost

Yusaku Maezawa, founder of online fashion shopping site Zozo, had launched a campaign last month to find a 'life partner' who would travel with him on his planned moon voyage in 2023. Photo: AFP 
Yusaku Maezawa, founder of online fashion shopping site Zozo, had launched a campaign last month to find a 'life partner' who would travel with him on his planned moon voyage in 2023. Photo: AFP 

Yusaku Maezawa

Japanese fashion billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has pulled out of a documentary search for a life partner to take on his voyage around the moon, citing his "mixed feelings" about participating.

The first paying passenger on SpaceX’s 2023 maiden tourist flight has asked producer AbemaTV to no longer participate in the show announced last month.

The plan was to find the love of his life, fly to the moon on Elon Musk’s rocket and film it all for a documentary to be called “Full Moon Lovers”.

Mr Maezawa, 44, apologised to streaming service AbemaTV and the nearly 28,000 women who applied, saying he felt “extremely remorseful to conclude” the project.

“Despite my genuine and honest determination towards the show, there was a part of me that still had mixed feelings about my participation,” he posted on Twitter, where he is Japan's most followed account with more than 7 million followers.

The founder of online fashion shopping site Zozo, he is worth an estimated $1.9 billion (Dh6.9bn), according to Forbes.

New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart is a one-time lorry driver and high school dropout. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart is a one-time lorry driver and high school dropout. Photo: Getty Images

Graeme Hart

New Zealand’s richest person got a fortune boost after the stock market debut of Reynolds Consumer Products, the maker of Hefty trash bags and aluminium foil.

Mr Hart, 64, controls a majority stake in Reynolds through Rank Group, his Auckland-based private equity firm, and the consumer-goods business is his biggest asset.

Reynolds raised $1.23bn in the biggest initial public offering by a household goods maker. In its trading debut January 31, the company’s shares climbed 9.8 per cent to close at $28.55, valuing Mr Hart’s stake in the company at $4.4bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The stock was at $30.20 on Friday's close.

Mr Hart’s current net worth is around $9.9bn, according to Forbes — but he was once a high school dropout working as an auto-body repairman and lorry driver.

He later obtained an MBA from New Zealand’s University of Otago, where he formed the basis of his leveraged-buyout strategy for scores of deals he made over the past three decades. In a 2018 speech at his alma mater, Mr Hart spelt out that strategy to graduating students.

“Be bold,” he said. “That means buy as big as you can, borrow as much as you can and then work the asset as hard as you can.”

Reynolds was formed by Rank in 2010, primarily through a combination of the Reynolds and Hefty businesses with Presto brands. The US-based company had net income of $135m on revenue of $2.1bn for the nine months through September 30. Rank’s other assets include Pactiv, which supplies packaging for fast-food chains.

Warren Buffett, chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, has sold all his newspaper assets. Photo: AFP
Warren Buffett, chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, has sold all his newspaper assets. Photo: AFP

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett sold all of Berkshire Hathaway’s publications to Lee Enterprises for $140m, including the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska and The Buffalo News in New York.

The deal covers 31 daily newspapers in 10 states as well as 49 paid weekly publications with digital sites and 32 other print products. As part of the agreement, Lee will enter into a 10-year lease for BH Media’s real estate.

Mr Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive, said he and his partner, Charlie Munger, have long admired Lee, which has been managing the BH Media publications since July 2018.

“We had zero interest in selling the group to anyone else for one simple reason: We believe that Lee is best positioned to manage through the industry’s challenges,” Mr Buffett said.

Newspapers make up a small part of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns an assortment of more than 90 companies and holds major investments in companies like Coca-Cola, Apple and Wells Fargo.

The deal will increase Lee’s size significantly. The Iowa-based company said its portfolio will grow to 81 daily papers and nearly double its audience size. The deal is expected to close in mid-March.

“This is a compelling and transformative transaction for Lee,” said Mary Junck, Lee’s chairman. “It both refinances our long-term debt on attractive terms and provides new revenue opportunities as well as operational synergies across an expanded portfolio.”

Berkshire Hathaway is providing about $576m in long-term, 9 per cent financing to Lee, which it will use to pay for the Berkshire properties and refinance Lee’s approximately $400m in existing debt.

Lee said it expects to eliminate about $20m in annual costs as part of the deal primarily by cutting administrative expenses at the newspapers. Lee said it also expects to increase revenue by about $5m by focusing on growing digital revenue and changes to subscription pricing.

South African businessman Patrice Motsepe apologised for telling US President Donald Trump 'Africa loves you'. Photo: Bloomberg
South African businessman Patrice Motsepe apologised for telling US President Donald Trump 'Africa loves you'. Photo: Bloomberg

Patrice Motsepe

South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe apologised for telling US President Donald Trump that Africa loves him, but warned the growing perception that the continent is anti-America may hamper investment.

Mr Motsepe’s remarks to Mr Trump at a business dinner during the World Economic Forum in Davos last month sparked a debate among his countrymen who questioned his right to speak on behalf of the continent.

“I have a duty to listen to these differing views and would like to apologise,” Mr Motsepe, a brother-in-law of President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in an emailed statement to media January 25. “I do not have the right to speak on behalf of anybody except myself.”

In the video that went viral on social media, Mr Motsepe can be heard telling Mr Trump during a group dinner: “Africa loves America. Africa loves you. It is very, very important. We want America to do well. We want you to do well. The success of America is the success of the rest of the world.”

In response, Mr Trump said: “You’ve done a great job, thank you very much.”

Mr Trump has been criticised for his comments about Africa in the past, including one comparing African nations to a dirty latrine. Last week, it emerged that he is considering a proposal to extend travel restrictions to four African countries, including Nigeria.

Mr Motsepe said his remarks were partly aimed at encouraging discussion between the Trump administration and African leaders and “particularly in the context of the increasing feedback from certain American political and business leaders that South Africa and some African countries are anti-America and its political leadership".

“This perception has had an impact on our ability to attract foreign investments and create jobs,” he said.

The continent has to create about 8 million new jobs for its youth every year and South Africa, where half of those aged 15 to 24 are unemployed, has to generate more than 500,000 new posts, according to Mr Motsepe’s statement.

Former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2005 for securities fraud and other charges, died on February 2. Photo: Bloomberg
Former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2005 for securities fraud and other charges, died on February 2. Photo: Bloomberg

Bernard Ebbers

Bernard Ebbers, the ousted chief executive at telecoms company WorldCom, whose corporate malfeasance led to imprisonment, died on February 2. He was 78.

He died, surrounded by his family at home in Brookhaven, Mississippi, a little more than a month after his early release from prison, according to a family statement released by his lawyer, Graham Carner. No cause was given.

A federal judge ordered Mr Ebbers's release in December for medical reasons after he had served more than 13 years of a 25-year sentence.

In 2002, WorldCom’s first-quarter profit tumbled 78 per cent as rising competition from local-phone companies led to cuts in call prices. Mr Ebbers, who had saddled the company with $30bn in debt from 75 acquisitions, resigned that April.

Two months after Mr Ebbers left, WorldCom disclosed it had misreported $3.9bn in expenses. The Securities and Exchange Commission called the misstatements “unprecedented” and in July 2002 WorldCom filed the then-largest bankruptcy in US history.

After Mr Ebbers was forced out as chief executive, it was disclosed he owed the company $408m, money he had borrowed against his WorldCom stock when it was valued much higher. Mr Ebbers used the funds to acquire the largest ranch in Canada, timber property in Mississippi, a yacht repair firm and mansions.

In March 2005 he was convicted of multiple charges, including securities fraud. Mr Ebbers claimed he didn’t know that subordinates had cooked the books.

“Many stockholders and employees lost their investments in the fall of WorldCom. Many of our friends — and many in our family — did too,” the family statement read. “After we have had some time to grieve and heal, we intend to use this experience and our voice to advocate for those like Dad who are deserving of compassionate release to their families.”

Updated: February 9, 2020 04:46 PM

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