Acting Business Editor for the NZ Herald

Business Insider: Blame game begins over Dick Smith's receivership

Electronics brand's founder says Anchorage Capital Partners, the firm that publicly listed the company, has a lot of explaining to do.
Spare some sympathy for Dick Smith, the eccentric electronics entrepreneur whose namesake could end up on the scrap heap. Photo / Ross Setford
Spare some sympathy for Dick Smith, the eccentric electronics entrepreneur whose namesake could end up on the scrap heap. Photo / Ross Setford

Spare some sympathy for Dick Smith, the eccentric electronics entrepreneur whose namesake could end up on the scrap heap.

He's not as badly off as some of his eponymous retail chain's customers, now left in the lurch over deposits and gift cards.

Nor is the 71-year-old multi-millionaire in the position of some of the group's stockholders, who've taken a A$450 million ($477 million) haircut on the value of their shares in the past two years.

And he isn't facing any prospect of being out of work like some of the group's 3300 staff across Australia and New Zealand.

But Smith - who sold the chain in 1982 - will forever be identified with a failed business that burned investors, customers and workers if it can't find a buyer or trade out of its difficulties.

That's because Smith gave up the control of his name, face and brand to whoever was to buy his electronics business.

For 30 years that was Aussie supermarket giant Woolworths, which built up the electronics chain to have almost 400 stores in Australasia.

Enter Anchorage Capital Partners, the private equity player that bought Dick Smith for A$94 million in 2012 and floated the business in a A$534 million public listing the following year.

Since then the company's shares had fallen to be worth A$84 million on Monday, the day before receivers and administrators were appointed to the business.

Smith this week criticised Anchorage over the float, telling one Australian media outlet that the firm had "a lot of explaining to do".

Anchorage did not comment on the receivership this week, nor can Business Insider find any response to accusations made last year by Matt Ryan of Forager Funds that Anchorage had pulled off "the greatest private equity heist of all time", turning Dick Smith from "a $10 million piece of mutton into a $520 million lamb".

The blame game for the chain's woes has already begun and whoever is responsible, it certainly isn't Smith.

Yet he will continue to be associated with a retailer leaving a sour taste in the mouth's of shareholders and shoppers, many of who have never heard of Anchorage and never will again.

Full circle

While the man himself may be rueing the day he gave up his name to a company now on the rocks, Anchorage Capital Partners was in no rush to distance itself from Dick Smith this week.

The private equity firm's website still lists numerous awards it received for its work with the retailer, including best "Australia large company turnaround" in 2014.

In accounting its achievements with Dick Smith, Anchorage said it put in place "a rapid and highly successful turnaround programme" at the electronics chain.

That u-turn appears to have been shortlived, with the business now having come full circle.

What's in a name

High-profile property developer Tony Gapes has been renaming companies to keep his Redwood Group moniker alive. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
High-profile property developer Tony Gapes has been renaming companies to keep his Redwood Group moniker alive. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

High-profile property developer Tony Gapes has been renaming companies to keep his Redwood Group moniker alive, while letting insolvent firms "fall by the wayside", says a judge.

"Those not in the know stand to be misled," Associate Judge Roger Bell said a week before Christmas.

The judge's comments followed a High Court bid by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust to replace liquidator John Gilbert, who Gapes had appointed to one of his companies.

The trust, controlled by iwi Taranaki Whanui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, was set up in 2008 to receive and manage a Treaty of Waitangi settlement package and is owed $731,000 by Gapes' firm Victoria Street West.

Until the end of 2014, this company was known as Redwood Group Ltd - the banner under which Gapes has completed hundreds of millions of dollars of property projects since 1992.

Another of Gapes' firms is now called Redwood Group Ltd, having changed its name in April.

As a result of Associate Judge Bell's decision, Gilbert must summon a new meeting of creditors to vote to confirm his position or resolve to appoint another liquidator.

Gapes and any firms associated with the property developer have been barred from voting at this meeting.

One of the old guard of New Zealand business, Sir Ron Brierley, is trying his hand at the new(ish) world of social media. Photo / Greg Bowker
One of the old guard of New Zealand business, Sir Ron Brierley, is trying his hand at the new(ish) world of social media. Photo / Greg Bowker

Old dog, new tricks

One of the old guard of New Zealand business, Sir Ron Brierley, is trying his hand at the new(ish) world of social media.

The 78-year-old corporate raider and founder of Brierley Investments has been slowly gathering followers on Twitter, mostly tweeting photos from social gatherings.

The longer and more fulsome the corporate governance statement the greater the odds shareholders are being shafted in a back room somewhere.
Sir Ron Brierley

One is a snap of Brierley meeting Queen Elizabeth and another of Aussie corporate raider John Spalvins with former Guinness Peat Group director Gary Weiss, who Brierley said needed a haircut.

While comments on business are more sparing, Brierley has spilled forth his views on corporate governance statements to his 27 followers.

"The longer and more fulsome the corporate governance statement the greater the odds shareholders are being shafted in a back room somewhere," he tweeted.

- NZ Herald

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