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Frasers seeks representation on the board of Mulberry

Lauretta Roberts
23 May 2023

Frasers Group is reported to be seeking representation on the board of British luxury accessories brand Mulberry, in which it holds a 37% stake.

According to The Telegraph, the British sports and fashion retail group, would like clarity from Mulberry on its operations in Asia. Mulberry is majority owned (56%) by Singapore's Challice Group, which has backed the brand for more than 20 years.

Challice is controlled by billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng and his wife Christina Ong. The chairman of Mulberry is Chris Roberts, who is also managing director of the Ongs’ British hotel and retail company, Como Holdings UK.

It is understood that Frasers has sought clarification from Roberts about details of a deal Mulberry signed with Challice in 2017 to establish a joint venture to expand Mulberry in Asia with Challice taking a 40%. Frasers would like to know if the Ongs benefits from this deal in other ways, such as Mulberry renting property from Challice, and it is said the retail group is frustrated at what it perceives to be a lack of transparency.

Frasers is said to have put a request Roberts and Mulberry CEO Thierry Andretta to have representation on its board. This request has not yet been granted or declined.

Frasers first began building a stake in Mulberry in 2020 and exceeded the 30% threshold by the end of that year. Ordinarily amassing a 30%-plus stake in a listed business would trigger a mandatory take-over bid but because Challice already owned a majority stake, Frasers was only bound to clarify its intentions and stated that it was not intending to make a bid.

The stake in Mulberry is one of a number of strategic shareholdings held by Frasers Group, which also holds a near 4% stake in Hugo Boss (but also controls further stock through 'put options') and a 5% stake in online fashion giant ASOS. It has claimed its stake-holdings are down to its desire to build relationships and to demonstrate its belief in the long-term future of the brands concerned. Frasers stocks Mulberry in both House of Fraser and at Flannels.

In the past Frasers held sizeable stakes in Debenhams, before its collapse and eventual buyout from liquidation by Boohoo Group, and fashion retailer French Connection.

During a recent interview with the BBC, Frasers CEO Michael Murray said Frasers founder, and his father in law, Mike Ashley believed that the Flannels stores, which stock a raft of high end brands targeting Gen Z and Millennial consumers, were "bonkers" however he was very supportive of them.

Speaking to the broadcaster, Murray said: "He [Ashley] can't understand why people would spend so much on luxury clothing. But he understands that he doesn't understand, and he understands you have to be relevant to consumers.

"He understands when he sees the results. It's quite remarkable what we've done."

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