Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Whole new ball game with Mike Ashley

Critics of the Sports Direct bonus scheme claim it is biased towards the company's founder Mike Ashley
Critics of the Sports Direct bonus scheme claim it is biased towards the company's founder Mike Ashley

Few business leaders inspire as much fear and admiration combined as Mike Ashley, the head and founder of Sports Direct and the owner of Newcastle United.

Mr Ashley, who has a share in the Ireland retail chain Heatons, which has 10 stores here, has just secured agreement to a controversial bonus scheme.

The company has always had fraught relationship with the City. And this occasion has been no different.

Investor lobby groups and organisations like the Institute of Directors had criticised the plans, which had the potential to grant 25 million shares worth around £180m to employees, including Mr Ashley.

He has not received a salary or bonus since the retailer floated in 2007, although don't feel sorry for him.

Mr Ashley has netted £929m from the flotation of the business in 2007 and has since banked hundreds of millions of pounds from share sales.

The allocation of shares to Mr Ashley under the latest arrangement has not been disclosed.

But from the outset, he seemed nonchalant at best at whether or not he upset City investors. After shares fell below the float price of 300p in 2007, he said that "some of these City people act like a bunch of cry babies".

He appears to inject some of the rough and tumble of the football field into the stock market, and has displayed plenty of chutzpah in his approach to potential investments outside his own company, buying a 4.6% shareholding in Debenhams at a time when the department store was at a low ebb, just after issuing disappointing Christmas results.

He has a shareholding of 11% in House of Fraser and is a clearly a retail force to be reckoned with.

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