Crying: Stefan Persson
A billionaire who owns large parts of the British West Country fights some of the world's mightiest investors about the global H & M fashion empire that was founded 71 years ago by his father.
Stefan Persson spent less than $ 1 billion this year on foaming shares in Hennes & Mauritz – better known as H & M and one of the world's largest retailers – although the company is struggling to cope with competitors like Asos, Boohoo and Primark.
Persson, an Anglophile Swede who is said to enjoy the life of an English tortoise, is the chairman of H & M.
He and his sister, Lottie Tham, own about 51 percent of the retail giant – nearly £ 8 billion in shares.
His latest buying spree leads to growing speculation that he may eventually make an offer on the company as part of plans to protect it from hedge fund-raiders and revive his fortune.
The magnate owns 19,000 hectares called Ramsbury Estates in North East Wiltshire, West Berkshire and North Hampshire, including hunting areas, shooting and fishing areas and an entire village.
His 30 square kilometers of land, which he bought piece by piece, includes the picturesque village of Linkenholt, near Andover, which he bought for £ 25 million in 2009 – including farmland, a cricket ground and 21 houses rented to villagers.
Earlier this year, Persson hit the headlines when he got staff on his estate to dig a two mile sled to bring superfast broadband to Ramsbury, the village in Wiltshire where he has a home, after BT Openreach had tried to pay him £ 170,000. to pay. His gentleman workers also connected nearby residents in Axford while they were to it.
Now it seems that Persson – who led the British division of H & M for six years until 1982 – tries to get the store chain out of trouble. H & M has struggled since 2015, with the shares halving and is currently trading at their lowest level since 2005.
The slump was partly attributed to smart hedge funds that smelled and took short positions – which means that they are betting on the falling share price.
H & M is now one of the companies with the biggest shortcomings in the world, because investors bet that Persson can not run the business. Data from IHS Markit show that the amount of H & M shares on loan to short sellers in August rose from 11.6 percent to 13.9 percent.
Persson's share-raising this year has raised rumors that he may wish to further increase his family property with a view to taking the business privately.
City sources told The Mail on Sunday that Persson talked with banks like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS and Natixis about putting together a comprehensive debt finance package for further share purchases and a mega deal to take the company private. Such a move forces sellers to close their positions.
Sources suggested that Persson would likely increase the proportion of his family – possibly up to about 70 percent – before any form of buyout would be launched.
The 70-year-old has repeatedly denied allegations that he intends to take H & M privately when asked about takeover speculation and has refused to comment.
Kingdom: Rolling hills in North Wiltshire are now home to the H & M chairman
But he has been noisier on his estate. In a row that the & # 39; Pheasants Revolt & # 39; Persson in 2015 with neighbor and property magnate Harry Hyams on plans to build a mansion with nine bedrooms. Hyams, who had gunman rights on the land, said it would spoil his sport.
And the Swede can claim that he is responsible for the best pub in England.
The Bell at Ramsbury was given a full makeover after Persson and his wife had taken over eight years ago. Now it is the holder of the AA Pub of the Year award and described as the "heart of the local community."
Prince Charles even visited the distillery of the estate last December when Persson served samples of the custom made gin and vodka.
Marlborough College, where the Duchess of Cambridge went to school, is only a few miles away.
Erling Persson, the father of Persson, founded Hennes & Mauritz in 1947 in a small town called Vasteras in Sweden.
EXCELLENT STRATCH FROM FIFTH AVENUE TO CHAMPS-ELYSEES
Current chief executive of H & M Karl-Johan Persson (Stefan & # 39; s son)
Business empire includes: property on Oxford Street in London, Champs-Elysees in Paris and Fifth Avenue in New York
Faces of H & M include: Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and David Beckham.
Persson says: Sometimes I think about living in a country with very high taxes. But my family and I do not complain. We live in Sweden and want to contribute our bit. I do not think you will become a happier person just by moving from one country to another for tax reasons. & # 39;
Originally, a women's clothing store (Hennes translates as & # 39; in Swedish) Erling Persson began selling menswear after having bought the hunting garment retailer Mauritz Widforss in 1968. He conceived the idea of a new approach to fashion stores when he was more efficient, high-volume stores while traveling in the United States.
H & M listed on the Swedish stock exchange and in 1976 Erling Persson opened a store in London. In the same year he appointed son Stefan to lead the British company.
Since then, the group has expanded rapidly. It has more than 4,000 stores in about 60 countries and employs 100,000 people. H & M would be the world's largest retailer after Zara owner Inditex.
In 1982, Stefan took over the management of his father and in 1998 he became chairman.
Stock brokers are not enthusiastic about the prospects of H & M, and many City offices advise customers to sell the shares.
Geoff Ruddell and Amy Curry, analysts at Morgan Stanley, said that the main challenge for H & M is not only to adapt to a web-focused world, but that its value decreases for customers who can find lower prices and larger series online .