Lululemon shares higher on report of Chip Wilson mulling move

Shares in Lululemon gained ground today after it was reported that the activewear company's founder, Chip Wilson, is assembling a team of investment bankers with a view to shaking up the board or even taking it over entirely.

Vancouver-based activewear company's founder, former executive has reportedly hired Goldman Sachs

Chip Wilson stepped down from an active role at the company earlier this year but still owns more than a quarter of the shares. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Shares in Lululemon gained ground today after it was reported that the activewear company's founder, Chip Wilson, is assembling a team of investment bankers with a view to shaking up the board or even taking it over entirely.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wilson had retained the services of Goldman Sachs.

Wilson stepped down a few months ago from an executive role at the company he founded, but he still owns more than a quarter of it.

According to the newspaper, Wilson is still looking at a number of options, ranging from returning to some sort of role at the company, selling his stake entirely, all the way to engineering a takeover.

When asked to comment on the report, a spokesperson for Lululemon simply said, "The Lululemon board of directors and management team are focused on further strengthening the company’s product engine and relentlessly innovating to drive global expansion and create value for Lululemon shareholders."

A representative for Wilson was not immediately available for comment when asked by Reuters News Agency.

The report is an escalation from an unsuccessful move by Wilson earlier this month to block the reappointment of two of the company's directors.

The possibility of a battle for control of Lululemon between the visionary but voluble founder and the new executive regime drove Lululemon shares up more than three per cent to $41.54 on the Nasdaq on Monday. 

Lululemon's stock is down 30 per cent this year as the company works on improving its business since pulling one of its popular yoga pants from stores last spring because they were too sheer.

Wilson also landed in hot water in the aftermath of the Luon pants fiasco by giving the impression in a television interview that only women of a certain body type should wear the company's products.

Once a stock market darling, the company has been sputtering since former CEO Christine Day and Wilson departed from the company, leaving an acrimonious atmosphere. "Our parents are fighting and it’s awkward," was how new CEO Laurent Potdevin put it when the company last revealed its quarterly earnings.

Deal involving Wilson 'unlikely,' analyst says

Some retail analysts doubt there's any validity to the notion that Wilson could credibly mount a charge to take over the company.

"We want to be blunt here — we think a deal involving Lulu founder Chip Wilson is unlikely," Cowen & Co. analyst Faye Landes said in a note on Monday.

The company's high valuation (currently worth just over $5 billion at Friday's closing price) plus the notion that any buyer would have to pay a significant premium to take over the market-leading company's juicy margins likely make Lululemon too pricey for anyone to take over. 

The company's board likely will want to give the new executive team a chance to implement their strategy, so "they may not agree to a deal unless it is at a very high premium," Landes said.

Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser agrees, adding that Wilson's presence is a wild card.

"He's mad about being moved to the back of the bus, and he's trying to move forward, but his choices aren't good," Poser said.

Poser said the presence of the founder and yoga enthusiast Wilson is good news to some people who are devoted to the company, but an irritant to other investors and customers.

"They can't live with him but they can't live without him," he said.Poser said the recent missteps have tarnished the brand, possibly for a long time. "It's like a skier with a broken leg," he said. "It takes a second and a half to break but four or five months' worth of rehab until you can walk again."

"These things don't turn around quickly, if at all," he said.

As Landes put it, Wilson's "track record of provocative remarks makes a deal that would involve raising billions of dollars unlikely."

With files from Reuters


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