Sunday, December 17, 2017
Business

Co-founder makes private $8.84 billion play for Best Buy

NEW YORK — Best Buy co-founder Richard Schulze is offering to take the electronics seller private only months after leaving as the company's chairman in a deal that values the company at as much as $8.84 billion.

Best Buy said it would consider the offer, but called it "highly conditional." And analysts are skeptical that Schulze's opening offer of $24 to $26 per share would get a deal done and that it could be tricky to line up investment firms to help pay for it.

It's the latest twist in the Minneapolis company's struggles to stay relevant as more people buy electronics online. Over the past year, it has announced a major restructuring plan and fired CEO Brian Dunn amid allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female employee.

Best Buy is trying to avoid the fate of its rival Circuit City, which went bankrupt in 2009, partly because of changing shopper habits.

Schulze, 71, has 20.1 percent of the stock in the company, so paying for the rest of shares would mean coming up with about $6.9 billion.

Schulze resigned as chairman in May, after Dunn's departure. A company investigation found that Schulze knew about the inappropriate relationship and failed to alert the board or human resources.

"Immediate and substantial changes are needed for the company to return to its market-leading ways," Schulze said Monday in a statement. "It is my strong belief that Best Buy's best chance for renewed success is to implement with urgency the necessary changes as a private company."

Schulze's offer would represent a 36 percent to 47 percent premium over the company's closing stock price Friday.

Schulze said he would have preferred to pursue a deal privately, but went public with the offer for the sake of speed.

"I am deeply concerned that further delay and indecision will cause additional loss of both value and talented leaders who are now uncertain of the company's future," Schulze said in a statement.

Schulze opened his first store called the Sound of Music in St. Paul, Minn., in 1966. He expanded the chain to nine stores in Minnesota by 1983 and renamed it Best Buy.

The company revolutionized the electronics business, operating warehouse-style stores and putting all inventory on store floors, rather than keeping it in back rooms. Schulze was CEO for more than 30 years, steering it through decades of steady growth before relinquishing that title in 2002. He remained active on the board and is still the company's largest shareholder.

In his letter to Best Buy's board, Schulze said he has a plan to deal with the company's challenges and has talked with private equity firms about joining in a deal, though he did not specify which firms. Schulze said he would finance the deal through a combination of private equity investments, about $1 billion of his own equity and debt. He said he was working with Credit Suisse to line up financing and that the firm was confident he could find lenders.

Shares of Best Buy rose $2.35, or 13.3 percent, to $19.99 in trading Monday.

Analysts expressed doubt the deal would happen quickly.

"It's got a lot of obstacles to overcome before we see a final deal consummated," said Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy.

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