Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Lululemon strips its billionaire founder of board-appointment power

In our latest round-up of the wealthy, Chip Wilson gets a slap from the yoga apparel brand and Richard Branson brings space tourism one step closer to reality

Chip Wilson, the Canadian founder of Lululemon, criticised the company's performance in his 2018 book Little Black Stretchy Pants. Photo: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock
Chip Wilson, the Canadian founder of Lululemon, criticised the company's performance in his 2018 book Little Black Stretchy Pants. Photo: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

Chip Wilson

The Canadian founder of Lululemon Athletica has been stripped of his right to designate a board nominee after he “failed to observe the requirements of the support agreement relating to certain contesting stockholder actions,” the company said in a recent filing.

Chip Wilson has been at odds of late with the athletic apparel brand he founded in 1998. In his 2018 book Little Black Stretchy Pants he bemoaned Lululemon’s performance since 2013, arguing the firm failed to take advantage of its leadership position and lost ground to rivals including Under Armour and Nike. He said he was “playing to win, while the directors of the company I founded were playing not to lose”.

Mr Wilson, who served as Lululemon’s chief executive for eight years and then as chairman, left that job in 2013 but still owns more than 9 per cent of company stock. He is worth $3.9 billion (Dh14.3bn), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The support agreement signed in 2014 gave Mr Wilson the right to appoint a board director “so long as he owned at least 8 per cent of our common stock and did not take any contesting stockholder action,” according to the April 24 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing did not specify what prompted the change and said that Mr Wilson “informed the board that he did not agree with the board’s conclusions”.

Lululemon shares have surged 77 per cent in the past year. Mr Wilson, meanwhile, has sold into the rally, disposing of about $725 million of the company’s shares this year, according to calculations by Bloomberg.

Mr. Wilson’s relationship with the athletic wear maker, has long been fraught. After a November 2013 interview with Bloomberg, in which he said Lululemon’s yoga pants “don’t work for some women’s bodies," Wilson apologised, stepped down as chairman a month later, then threatened a boardroom fight. He sold half his stake in 2014 before stepping away from the business in 2015.

In a more recent interview with Bloomberg last October, he said he wanted to return to a public board in 2019 and that Lululemon was his first choice.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10187088d) Richard Branson, of Virgin Group, waves as he arrives for a naming ceremony at the Brightline train station, to be renamed as Virgin MiamiCentral, in Miami. The state's Brightline passenger trains are being renamed Virgin Trains USA after Branson invested in the new fast-rail project that is scheduled to connect Miami with Orlando Florida Passenger Train Branson, Miami, USA - 04 Apr 2019
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10187088d) Richard Branson, of Virgin Group, waves as he arrives for a naming ceremony at the Brightline train station, to be renamed as Virgin MiamiCentral, in Miami. The state's Brightline passenger trains are being renamed Virgin Trains USA after Branson invested in the new fast-rail project that is scheduled to connect Miami with Orlando Florida Passenger Train Branson, Miami, USA - 04 Apr 2019

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is moving Virgin Galactic's winged passenger rocket and more than 100 employees from California to a remote commercial launch and landing facility in southern New Mexico, bringing his space-tourism dream a step closer to reality.

Mr Branson said at a news conference that Virgin Galactic's development and testing programme has advanced enough to make the move to the custom-tailored hangar and runway at the taxpayer-financed Spaceport America facility near the town of Truth or Consequences.

Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said a small number of flight tests are pending. He declined to set a specific deadline for the first commercial flight.

An interior cabin for the company's space rocket is being tested, and pilots and engineers are among the employees relocating from California to New Mexico. The move to New Mexico puts the company in the "home stretch," Mr Whitesides said.

US taxpayers invested over $200m in Spaceport America after Mr Branson and then-governor Bill Richardson pitched the plan for the facility, with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant.

Virgin Galactic's spaceship development has taken far longer than expected and had a major setback when the company's first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.

Mr Branson thanked New Mexico politicians and residents for their patience over the past decade. He said he believes space tourism — once aloft — is likely to bring about profound change.

"Our future success as a species rests on the planetary perspective," Mr Branson said. "The perspective that we know comes sharply into focus when that planet is viewed from the black sky of space."

Mr Branson described a vision of hotels in space and a network of spaceports allowing supersonic, transcontinental travel anywhere on earth within a few hours. He indicated, however, that building financial viability comes first.

"We need the financial impetus to be able to do all that," he said. "If the space programme is successful as I think … then the sky is the limit."

Investor Sam Zell said its not unusual 'for a real estate guy to have huge deductions'. Photo: AP/REX/Shutterstock
Investor Sam Zell said its not unusual 'for a real estate guy to have huge deductions'. Photo: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Sam Zell

Investor Sam Zell dismissed President Donald Trump’s tax records as irrelevant, saying that as a fellow real estate developer in the 1980s and ’90s, he used some of the same deductions to report losses.

“Absolutely, as did every other real estate investor in the United States,” Mr Zell said in an interview on Bloomberg Television earlier this month.

Mr Trump’s tax returns “don’t tell much of a picture” about the success of his business, and following the cash flow would be more relevant, Mr Zell said.

“For a real estate guy to have huge deductions, who owns a lot of brick-and-mortar, is not unusual,” he said.

Mr Trump’s businesses generated huge losses, and his hotel and casino properties were eligible for large depreciation write-offs that meant he paid taxes for only two years between 1985 and 1994, according to tax records obtained by the New York Times. Trump racked up $1.17bn worth of losses in that time, according to the documents.

Mr Zell is the founder and chairman of Chicago-based Equity Group Investments and has a net worth of $4.66bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Yusaku Maezawa, who will be SpaceX's first passenger on a voyage around the moon, joked on Twitter that he has no money. Photo: Koji Sasahara/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Yusaku Maezawa, who will be SpaceX's first passenger on a voyage around the moon, joked on Twitter that he has no money. Photo: Koji Sasahara/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Yusaku Maezawa

One of Japan’s richest men is raising more questions about his wealth.

Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and largest shareholder of the country’s online fashion shopping site Zozo, said on Twitter that he’s selling more of his notable art collection to raise money. That comes as he pledged an usually high percentage of his stock holdings — 88 per cent — as collateral to banks including UBS Group AG and Nomura Holdings.

The 43-year old Maezawa earned a reputation as one of the world’s biggest spenders in recent years, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into everything from Basquiat paintings to a Hermès-upholstered private jet and a down payment for a ride on Elon Musk’s rocket around the moon. But with Zozo reeling from a series of strategic missteps, his latest comments have left many wondering whether his days as a high-spender could be over.

"Yes, I have no money. I spend it so quickly,” he tweeted last week — with a smiley face — when asked on Twitter about his finances. He later said he needs funds to finance more lavish cash giveaways to his Twitter supporters, which have earned him millions of followers.

Mr Maezawa’s net worth is currently estimated at $1.4bn, taking into account the pledged shares, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The latest controversy comes less than two weeks after Mr Maezawa returned to Twitter. In February, he announced he was taking a break from tweeting to "focus on my actual job." Zozo has lost more than 50 per cent of its market value since peaking in July.

Mr Maezawa, who owns 36 per cent of Zozo’s outstanding shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, has steadily increased the amount of his stock holdings pledged as collateral in loan agreements to banks. The ratio was 88 per cent in February, up from 79 per cent a year ago and 69 per cent two years ago, according to regulatory filings with the nation’s financial watchdog.

The entrepreneur is a crucial piece of the funding for Musk’s upcoming rocket to the moon, which is scheduled to take place in 2023. His SpaceX down payment had a "material” impact on the development of the project, which is estimated to cost about $5bn, Musk said in September. Mr Maezawa and Space X did not immediately respond to questions about whether additional investment will be required from the Japanese entrepreneur.

Updated: May 18, 2019 03:58 PM

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