Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has brought iconic boot brand RM Williams back to Australian shores after a $190 million acquisition that will pocket Hollywood superstar Hugh Jackman $10 million.
The news, which had been heavily foreshadowed in recent weeks, was announced by Dr Forrest’s investment fund Tattarang on Monday, with the Fortescue founder and multibillionaire saying he and his wife, Nicola, were “incredibly proud and humbled” to now own the brand.
“It always rankled a bit that this great Australian, Reginald Murray Williams, kicked off this fantastic organisation, employed so many people, and then it had to go to overseas hands,” he said.
“I’m so glad it’s now back, and I’d have to say the [Forrest] family has a big solid lump in its throat about returning RM Williams back to Australia.”
RM Williams had been up for sale since May last year after its parent company, Louis Vuitton-partnered private equity firm L Catterton, began seeking buyers for the business at a $400 million to $500 million asking price.
Various parties from around the world had expressed interest in the brand, but Dr Forrest’s Tattarang emerged as the winning bidder after TPG Capital pulled out earlier this month.
It’s understood Tattarang paid about $190 million for RM Williams, far below L Catterton’s original asking price but still above the $110 million it paid for the business in 2014. RM Williams reported profits of $23 million in 2019, and the acquisition values the company at about 9x earnings.
Tattarang has bought 100 per cent of the business, buying out minority shareholders such as Jackman, who owned about 5 per cent of the business and will receive about $10 million from the sale. Jackman will remain an ambassador for the brand, as he has been since 2015.
RM Williams chief executive Raju Vuppalapati said he was proud of the progress L Catterton had made in expanding the brand since acquiring it six years ago and he was hoping to continue that growth under Dr Forrest’s stewardship.
“The RM Williams team and I look forward to Andrew and Nicola’s stewardship as we enter the next exciting phase of surprising and delighting our consumers with hand-crafted products made in Australia,” he said.
Since L Catterton’s purchase in 2014, much of the focus of RM Williams’ growth has been on the international and youth market, with the business coining a target demographic of “boot boys and boot girls”: younger, fashion-savvy Australians keen on longer-lasting products.
This has drawn the ire of some boot traditionalists, who believe the company has diverged from its quality-focused roots and has reduced the durability of its famed work boots.
However, while Tattarang’s focus will remain on growing the brand in those markets, it has pledged to continue making the boots in Australia. It will also look to increase the company’s online presence given the digital boom brought on by COVID-19.
The pick-up will also help Dr Forrest’s investment vehicle build its portfolio outside of the metals, energy and agriculture sectors where the majority of its investments now lie, with the fund looking to continue to grow its “lifestyle” segment.
Source: Thanks smh.com