Solomon Lew has just acquired a little over 10% of Colorado, effectively blocking the $450m takeover by Hong Kong private equity group Affinity Equity Partners. AEP need to reach 90% ownership before they could compulsorily acquire the balance.

Lew is no stranger to Colorado. When it floated in 1999, he bought 21% of the company at $1 a share, selling them for $5.90 five years later. He might be on another nice earner now that the bidders will have to cut a deal with him. Does he want a higher price or a piece of the pie?

Lew has a 17% stake in Just Group, which, in turn, had a 4.9% stake in Colorado. There had been talk of Lew and Just possibly working together to acquire one or more of the Colorado brands such as JAG, Diana Ferrari or Williams Shoes. Last week, Just sold its stake to the bidders, effectively killing that speculation.

Lew’s Australian Retail Investments has a history of investing in local rag traders. In addition to Colorado and Just, his companies own 5.8% of Coles Myer, 12% of Country Road and several other smaller operators. He sold Witchery earlier this year for $130m.

Right through the KKR bid for Coles (and does anyone know if that’s still alive?) the Lew parcel has been mentioned as crucial. Again, there is speculation that the price for his shares may be a business rather than dollars.

He now has influential, or potentially obstructive, stakes in a number of retailers. His battle with the CML board is one of this country’s longest running and most bitter corporate feuds, closely followed by Lew’s arguing with Country Road when they release plans, strategies or results. A mixture of Jeremiah and Cassandra.

Maybe he just loves the sport of it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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