R.M. Williams is likely to be on the auction block in September. The Australian Financial Review reported back in May that the Australian boot and apparel brand's owner, L Catterton Asia, had engaged Goldman Sachs to seek out potential bidders. According to the newspaper, a public offering is out of the question, and the opening price could be as high as 500 million Australian dollars (€312m-$351m) – a surprising figure in light of the company's recent financial results.
Its revenues have in fact been climbing for the past three financial years, from AUD 119 million (€74.3m-$83.7m) in 2016 to AUD 126 million (€78.6m-$88.6m) in 2017 and AUD 142 million (€88.6m-$99.8m) in 2018. The operating profit for 2018 reached AUD 6 million (€3.7m-$4.2m), up from AUD 1 million (€620k-$700k) the previous year. We'll have to wait and see whether the potential bidders will find that persuasive enough. The Australian newspaper feels that R.M. Williams could be more easily sold at half the desired price.
At present, L Catterton Asia, the Singaporean investment fund in which LVMH is financially involved, controls R.M. Williams with a 82 percent stake. IFM Investors, an Australian superannuation fund, holds 13 percent of the shares and the actor Hugh Jackman, who is also the brand's ambassador, holds the remaining 5 percent. L Catterton's original stake of 49.9 percent dates back to 2013 and was purchased from Ken Cowley, who was a board director at News Corp. for 32 years and knew the late Reginald Murray Williams personally. L Catterton's stake was raised to its present level in 2014 for a total investment of about AUD 110 million (€68.6m-$77.3m).
What, then, could justify a so high as asking price for the bootmaker, and why would L Catterton, with its connections to LVMH, wish to sell a prestigious brand? According to Ravi Thakran, its managing partner, chief executive and chairman, the fund is merely seeking to generate a fairly rapid return on investment. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Thakran said that the management was able to turn around the brand in many ways, while reinvesting the retail model. He said the brand is now well known in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and London, paving the way for good progress.
L Catterton was formed in 2016 as a combination of Catterton, a private-equity firm in the U.S., and L Capital Asia, an investment fund backed by LVMH and Groupe Arnault, the holding company of the family that controls LVMH. Established in 1932, R.M. Williams operates about 50 retail stores, most of them in Australia. It exports to stockists in about 15 countries.