Just four years ago Sir Philip Green was dubbed King of the High Street by BBC Radio 4’s Profile programme.
Now he is being branded the “Unacceptable Face of Capitalism” by a Conservative MP, as BHS, the retail chain he sold just a year ago for 1, goes into administration leaving a 571m hole in its pension fund.
Richard Fuller MP, a member of parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, says the retail tycoon’s reputation should be questioned.
It is a reputation rich in character and anecdote from his failed attempts to takeover Marks and Spencer to the lavish lifestyle that has attracted accusations of tax avoidance.
Despite being born into a well-to-do family in South London, Philip Green prided himself on having worked his way to the top.
His competitive streak was apparent from an early age, noticed by school mates at Carmel College, his exclusive boarding school, nicknamed the “Jewish Eton”.
School friend Tony Rauch recalls Philip making a beeline for the table tennis table at break time, tussling with another boy to get hold of the bat that was in best condition.
“Unfortunately the other kid was a bit bigger than Philip and won,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Profile programme in 2012.
“He got very angry; cried a little bit,” says Mr Rauch. “He wasn’t physically hurt, I think he was just very angry at having lost.”
Sir Philip never lost his will to win. Profile reported that even when playing a game with his own children he played to win and quoted him as saying: “Why do you want to do something and not win – to not succeed at something?”
He left school aged 15, and began working on the forecourt of the petrol station his mother managed.
He then went on to learn business basics as an apprentice in a shoe warehouse and at 23-years-old he set up his own business importing and selling jeans.
Stuart Lansley, the author of an unauthorised biography of Sir Philip described those early days for Radio 4.
“He had a very mixed track record of starting up companies, and closing them down, working with other people, falling out with people.
“He travelled a lot, learning a lot about the supply chain, who the cheaper suppliers were and so on – but he certainly wasn’t a household name. “
Ironically it was BHS, known then as British Home Stores, that marked the moment Sir Philip Green finally “arrived” in 2000.
He paid 200m for what was already a slightly faded, dowdy chain. According to Stuart Lansley, his restless mind had spotted a beguiling new way to make money from the High Street:
“Philip Green moved from having a few million, to a few billion, in the space of a few years.
“He learned the way to make big bucks was essentially to do what’s known in the trade as a ‘leveraged buy-out’.
“He borrowed very large sums of money, invested a little bit himself, and bought up companies that were relatively cheap, because they weren’t doing very well. He turned them around, paying-off his debt, and then tripling – quadrupling – the money he put in, in a matter of a couple of years.”
Two years later he copied that model of the leveraged buyout when he bought the giant retail empire Arcadia, which owns brands such as Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, and of course Topshop and Topman.
Sir Philip Green’s most ambitious move came in 2004, when he put together 10bn ($16.1bn), much of it from investment banks, to make an offer for Marks and Spencer.
Even Sir Stuart Rose – then his rival and at the helm of Marks at the time – was impressed.
“Philip is not only a first-class retailer, he is absolutely pre-eminent in his generation in terms of his financial nous and ability,” Sir Stuart told Profile.
“If I wanted to be slightly uncharitable, I could say that he came to the market to raise a very, very large sum of money at a time when money was cheap and freely available – but only Philip could have put that together. It was a pretty amazing achievement.”
Sir Philip’s business skills may not be in doubt – but his interpersonal skills are another matter, and he reportedly has a very short fuse.
Sir Stuart Rose has first-hand experience of this, with Sir Philip reportedly grabbing the then Marks and Spencer boss by the lapels during his second unsuccessful takeover bid in 2004.
“There was a fairly physical occasion one morning, yes. I think tension had got quite high during the bid and Philip got upset about something,” said Sir Stuart.
“He wasn’t above ringing me up during the height of the bid and singing ‘if I were a rich man’ down the telephone to me, trying to point out the error of my ways [for not selling]… that I would make more money.
“He used to say ‘the only jet you know is Easyjet’.”
Sir Philip Green is not shy about enjoying the trappings of his success – his personal fortune is estimated at somewhere between 3bn and 4bn and he enjoys spending it.
He commutes into London from Monaco in a private jet, has a super-yacht called Lionheart, and is famous for throwing extravagant parties for friends and family in exotic places, with entertainment from the likes of Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and George Michael.
He has also forged a business partnership with supermodel Kate Moss, whose line of clothes helped raise Topshop’s profile in the world of high fashion.
But what has attracted the most controversy is not the lavish lifestyle – but his tax affairs.
In 2005 his company paid a 1.2bn dividend to the owner of Arcadia – Sir Philip’s wife, Tina. Since she is a resident of Monaco, she paid no tax in the UK.
In 2010 activists demonstrated outside the flagship Topshop and BHS stores in central London after Sir Philip was chosen by Prime Minister David Cameron to conduct a government efficiency review.
They thought his tax arrangements made him the wrong choice. Despite their anger, however, Arcadia has paid significant sums in corporation tax.
But some of Arcadia’s glamour has waned in recent years. Critics say that Green, notoriously averse to electronic gadgets, has not embraced online shopping as aggressively as his competitors.
While sales remained steady through the group, BHS was seen as the weakest link, and was sold for 1 to Retail Acquisitions, a group of investors including a Formula 3000 racing driver, bankers and entrepreneurs.
Now questions are being asked over just how much money Sir Philip had taken out of the company in the years before that sale.
Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, said: “In this situation it appears this owner extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from the business and walked away to his favourite tax haven, leaving the Pension Protection Scheme to pick up the bill.”
Business Editor Simon Jack said: “In his defence he ran this company for 15 years, he employed thousands and thousands of people, and he was a great force for UK fashion retail, and made it a great force here and in the US.
“It doesn’t look good as he jumps on his yacht to go back to Monaco leaving pensioners and employees worried about it, but he is not a natural corporate raider. He’s not necessarily the vulture type of capitalist that people have portrayed him in the last couple of days.”Continue reading
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A renowned MIT aging scientist as cofounder. Not one, not two, but six Nobel prize laureates as scientific advisors. Oh, and a product that could just maybe help you stay feeling young. Its no wonder the dietary supplement company Elysium has attracted attention in an industry not exactly known for scientific rigor. And while Elysium is careful to tout cellular health rather than explicit claims about anti-aging—the companys image is all about scientific rigor—headlines have been quicker to make the leap.
One of the main ingredients in Elysiums supplement, Basis, is a chemical called nicotinamide riboside. It has, in fact, shown promise making mice healthier. No research has shown it to be effective in humans—a fact that Elysiums cofounders will readily admit. But theyre also out to prove that NR isnt just snake oil. Weve stressed with this company that it is going to be science-based, says Leonard Guarente, the MIT researcher who cofounded Elysium with former tech investors Eric Marcotulli and Dan Alminana.
And so Elysium is currently running a human trial to suss out the effect of NR in older adults. Not that the company is waiting for those results. Its already touting NRs benefits for DNA repair and energy, which is perfectly legal under the Food and Drug Administrations (loose, sketchy) rules about dietary supplements. You can say almost anything you want as long as the claims arent about specific diseases.
As others have pointed out, Elysiums supplements business is a savvy way of sidestepping the FDAs more onerous regulations around drugs. The agency doesnt even consider aging a disease. Why make a costly, time-consuming bet on FDA approval when you can start selling supplements for $50 a month right away?
But another company, ChromaDex, actually is interested in getting FDA approval for NR right now. It wouldnt be an anti-aging drug—again, aging isnt a disease—but would instead get approved to treat a rare, genetic disease in kids called Cockayne syndrome which, yes, has symptoms that look a lot like premature aging. The disease is rare enough that ChromaDex is hoping for an orphan drug designation, a fast track to approval for medicines aimed at diseases that affect very few people.
The point? While ChromaDex is waiting for that approval, it makes and sells raw NR to several companies, who repackage the supplement and sell it under their own brands—including, yes, Elysium. Were an ingredient technology company, says ChromaDex CEO Frank Jaksch. ChromaDex holds patents for making NR, and it wants the ingredient to be as widely used as possible—be it in prescription drugs or dietary supplements. Elysium has attracted press because of its scientific stars, but ChromaDex is quietly blurring the boundary between drug and supplement.
Scientists didnt think much of nicotinamide riboside—a trace molecule in milk—until they realized the human body converted it to another molecule: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. NAD is vital to how cells use energy, a key player in metabolism. Im always reluctant to say theres going to be a miracle molecule that is the next great thing, says Christopher Martens, an aging researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, but NAD seems to be very important.
Dozens of studies have sketched out a promising story: Levels of NAD decline with age. Boosting it seems to rejuvenate cells in mice. But does taking NR boost NAD levels enough to slow aging in humans? Nobody knows.
Nevertheless, the mouse studies created demand for stable molecules that turned into NAD in the body. In 2011, ChromaDex licensed a patent for synthesizing NR in a lab—far cheaper than trying to purify it from milk. They named the product Niagen. You can buy it from several different consumer brands online, including Elysium.
To boost future demand, ChromaDex has set up 70 research agreements with universities or research institutes to study nicotinamide riboside, putting up money and supplying scientists with the compound. Martens, the UC Boulder researcher, had been working with a different NAD precursor in mice when he found out about ChromaDexs NR. He reached out to the company, and they are now collaborating on a human trial that looks at NRs effect in healthy, older adults. Thats independent of Elysiums trial.
Meanwhile, hopes of turning NR into a drug for Cockayne syndrome rest on another research collaboration, this time with the National Institutes of Health. Vilhelm Bohrs lab at the NIH studies aging by looking at genetic diseases like Cockayne. He too realized the importance of NAD and got in touch with ChromaDex. In mice genetically altered to have Cockayne syndrome, NR has looked promising, he says. The group is now collecting data to submit an Investigational New Drug application to the FDA, which would allow the investigators to conduct a clinical trial for the disorder.
If the trial is approved, if the drug works, and if the drug is approved—which would take years—NR could be sold as a prescription drug for Cockayne syndrome and an off-the-shelf dietary supplement.
Weird as that might seem, it wouldnt be the first time. In the mid 2000s, the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline began selling Lovaza, an extract from readily available fish oil, as an FDA-approved drug for high blood triglyceride levels. Sales of the drug hit $1.1 billion a year before generic versions of the compound came along. And of course doctors have long given out prescriptions of high doses of vitamins and minerals.
But what makes NR different is that lots of factories can pump out vitamins, minerals, and fish oil. Only ChromaDex has the patents for making NR in the US.
Whats to stop customers from just buying the cheaper supplement version? You can thank health insurance. If your copay is cheaper that the store price of the supplement, your choice is easy—even if the cost to the insurance company and the overall health care system is higher. So splitting the market for NR into supplements for healthy people and drugs for the sick means more ways to make money. Thats two separate markets for a single product.
But thats screwed up, right? Misaligned incentives here? Im not going to disagree, says Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement trade association. But it is perfectly legal. Companies can continue to sell NR or fish oil as dietary supplements—again, as long as the supplement bottle doesnt make claims about specific diseases.
Getting the FDA to approve a drug for a disease is hard—but once youve done it, that same barrier keeps out competition. The opposite is true with dietary supplements: fewer regulations, lower barriers to entry, and a lot more competition. So you find away to differentiate yourself.
Elysium is differentiating itself with Nobel prize winners and with savvy branding. The company buys NR and pterostilbene—a natural compound similar to resveratrol found in red wine—from ChromaDex and repackages both as Basis, a daily dose of pills. Lots of other companies also buy from ChromaDex and package NR in their own bottles.
But Basis by Elysium just looks different. The other companies use cheap-looking plastic bottle. Elysiums pills come in a minimalist white jar, more reminiscent of expensive Japanese face cream than multivitamins. And you cant buy it in a drug store. Theres a quite a bit of fragmentation in this market and lack of leadership, says Elysium CEO and co-founder Eric Marcotulli. There needs to be a brand and company where people say, I believe what this brand is saying. I can trust that.
To make Elysium that brand, the cofounders went around recruiting a scientific advisory stacked with heavyweights. The list is headlined by six Nobel Prize Winners, but includes more than a dozen other scientists from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the Mayo Clinic. When I asked Meir Stampfer—a professor at Harvard Medical School and head of the famous long-running Nurses Health Study—how he got involved, he told me he had originally gotten a call from Marcotulli but was busy and not interested. Then he got a call from Eric Kandel, a Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist who had signed on as scientific advisor to Elysium. Hes one of my heroes. When I was in college I was thinking if I should go to graduate school and study with him, says Stampfer. He basically reassured me indeed they really wanted to do solid work and it wasnt, you know, a fly-by-night operation. So I said, OK, Im in.
Another member of the board, David Moore, now a metabolism researcher at Baylor, told me he was recruited by Jack Szostak, another one of Elysiums Nobel prize winners. Moores and Szostaks labs were next to each other at Harvard, and Szostak knew his former colleague was interested in natural products. I dont have much to say because I havent been in much direct contact with them, Moore said when I called. Ive emailed back and forth but nothing substantive. (Stampfer says he has been more closelyinvolved; he’s given feedbackinto the design of Elysium’s humantrial.)
Despite Elysiums pledged allegiance to scientific rigor, it is still selling a supplement unproven in humans—an expensive one, at that. Guarente told me he thought the nonhuman evidence was convincing, and he wanted to put the information out to let the customer decide. You dont have to start now. If you want to wait, wait, he says. Were taking it.
Elysium does have serious scientists who have put their names to the product. And I caught my self feeling thatElysiums pills, packaged in a sleek jar and backed by so many experts, seemed more legitimate than the bottles of NR online. But then why should I? Its all the exact same NR made by ChromaDex. Branding is a powerful thing.
Bohr, the NIH scientist studying NR for Cockayne Syndrome, told me he was uneasy with the supplements push. I think its a very promising thing, but dietary supplements are not controlled, he says. They dont have to go through FDA. They dont have to do through through real interrogation.
If NR truly does end up reversing the signs of aging in humans, the FDA will decide how to regulate it—as a supplement or as a drug. Or as both, which companies looking to maximize payments from customers and insurance companies might prefer.Continue reading
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Every precaution taken against disaster by U.S. investors in 2016 was on display in the stock market this week.
Short sales that earlier reached the highest level since the financial crisis were covered, while bearish options bets were closed. Meanwhile defensive industries such as consumer staples and utilities powered the S&P 500 Index to its best week in seven months. When it was over, the two-day trauma that followed U.K. voters decision to secede from the European Union was all but erased.
The S&P 500 surged 3.2 percent to 2,102.95, including three consecutive daily gains of more than one percent, something thats happened only two other times since October 2011. At Fridays close, the index was less than half a percent from its level before the U.K. referendum.
There was a two-day period where people were freaking out, but at the end of the day, people did hedge going in, Pravit Chintawongvanich, head derivatives strategist at Macro Risk Advisors, said by phone. The fact that people were aware that this could happen, that limited the severity of the initial sell off.
Evidence that short covering helped fuel the subsequent advance was visible in the performance of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. basket of shares with the most bearish bets. The index surged 5.2 percent on the rallys second day, the most since 2009. Traders said a decline in the CBOE Volatility Index on Monday, when the market fell almost 2 percent, signaled investors cashed in on Brexit hedges. VIX futures volume had surged 40 percent in the days leading up to the vote.
The precautions led to a wild ride on the VIX. After the option-derived measure of stress surged 49 percent the day after the referendum, it posted the biggest weekly decline in history. The VIX and the S&P 500, which move in opposite directions 80 percent of the time, on Monday fell together by the biggest degree since August.
The move out of Brexit, people were a little bit more prepared for than they were last fall when Chinas devaluation rocked the market, Russell Rhoads, director of education for CBOEs options institution, said on Monday. You do have people with positions in place that theyre ready to take off. With people taking off the long put options, its pushing down implied volatility and resulting in a lower VIX.
Automated funds emerged as big winners. CTAs headed into the referendum with bearish bets on U.S. equities, allowing them to make money amid the turbulence, Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, global market strategist in the multi-asset allocation team of JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note Friday. The funds quickly reversed to a long position, adding to their gains and in turn fueling the equity rally, Panigirtzoglou said.
While every industry in the S&P 500 rose over the five days, gains were dominated by industries least-tied to economic growth: health-care, utilities and phone companies rallied at least 4 percent. At price-earnings ratios of 23 for staples and 19.7 for utilities, both groups are more expensive than the benchmark and at least 20 percent above their five-year averages.
The buoyancy from U.S. stocks helped investors avoid the fate of past corrections induced by overseas concerns. While some analysts predicted a repeat of the August rout, central banks commitment to help markets navigate the turbulence lifted equities. The vote led traders to push back the expected timing for higher interest rates, and better-than-forecast data reinforced optimism that the economy will continue to expand.
The market is basically signaling that while Brexit is important, theres a sense that Europe isnt on the brink of falling apart, Matthew Kaufler, a portfolio manager with Federated Investors Inc. who oversees funds with about $2 billion assets, said by phone. Thats emboldened investors to get back in after the initial drop.
Health-care stocks were among the biggest gainers, with a 4 percent rally that was the best since March 2015. Endo International Plc, the groups worst performer in the two days after Brexit, ended the week 14 percent higher for the biggest gain.
Deal activity added to the rise. Mondelez International Inc.s $23 billion bid for Hershey Co. Thursday lifted the chocolate maker to the best performance among consumer-staple stocks even after it rebuffed the bid. The end of the second quarter on Thursday also spurred investors back into the market, Chintawongvanich said.
People panicked and sold at the lows, thinking it would get worse, but it didnt. The quarter-end came and people said, we cant not get involved, he said. That added to the rally over the last couple days, especially as they thought, well if this is nothing and central banks are going to help us, we cant not participate as we near highs.Continue reading
The slow progression of the sale of Yahoo to Verizon first announced in July 2016 but delayed in part because of massive data breach disclosures took one more step forward today. Yahoo has filed a lengthy8-K updatewith the SEC with manydetails about the future management of Altaba the investment holding company left behind after the sale containing its Alibaba and other stakes and with it, weve found out some newdetails.
The official value of Excalibur IP some 4,000non-core patents that Verizon is not buying but is getting an indefinite license to use is $740 million as of December 31, representing 1.4 percent of Altabas total assets as of that date.
For context, assets that will bea part of Altaba wereworth $52.9 billion as of December 31, the report noted, with the companys Alibaba investment taking up the lions share at nearly 62 percent. Once the deal with Verizon (which also owns TechCrunch) is completed, Thomas McInerney (the investor who led Yahoos strategic review) will lead Altaba as CEO, and the newly spun out company will trade under the AABA ticker.
Turning back to the patents, the valuation for Excaliburis notable because, at one point, thesewere a pivotal part of how Yahoo had hoped to extricate itself from its financial problems.
Yahoo had once hoped to get bids of over $1 billion for the group of patents, which includes both current patents and applicationsrelated to search, advertising, mobile, social networks, cloudservices and more a veritable roadmapof the many turns that Yahoos business took over the years.
As the SEC filing and Yahoo itself noted, selling the patents was one option that Yahoohad been considering as an alternative to spinning off its core business. As the 8-K further elaborates, there were some options in the subsequent sale bids for all of Yahoo that included the patents as part of the deal.
Ultimately, though, Verizon opted for a deal that didnt include ownership but just a license that is non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free [and] fully paid-up both for Verizon as well as current and future affiliates.
While the effort to sell or further license the Excalibur IP may have paused as Yahoo works through its Verizon sale, efforts to make money off those patentsdoesnt appear to have ended altogether. Yahoo will retain the Excalibur IP Assets and will be able to seek to monetize the Excalibur IP Assets before or after completion of the Sale Transaction, the company notes.
After it emerged that Yahoo transferred2,648 patents into a then-mysterious Excalibur entity, a number that Yahoo has now confirmed to us is closer to 4,000 patents, there have been reports that companies such asGoogles parent company Alphabet and Microsoft are among those interested in buying the IP.
The group contains some notable IP, including the patent that was once the subject of a lawsuit that Yahoo filed against Google related to search-based advertising. Google paid Yahoo around $330 million back in 2004 to settle the original suit.
Todays filing represents an important step forward in the process of completing our transaction with Verizon. We will continue to move ahead expeditiously toward the closing, which we expect to occur in the second quarter of 2017, a Yahoo spokesperson said in a statement.Continue reading