BY KAREN WELDS
What a way to start the millennium. David Bloom has always been a man of grand gestures, but even he couldn’t have planned so sweet an entry into the 21st century for Shoppers Drug Mart. After months of rumours and ‘what if’s,’ Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), an American investment group respected round the world for its acumen in all matters financial, has emerged as the chief new owner of Canada’s largest drugstore banner. Its supporting partners, including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, also boast impressive track records.
You can expect great things from the new Shoppers Drug Mart Inc.
It cannot be otherwise. While I confess next-to-no knowledge of high-level finance, the seeming temerity of a $2.55-billion leveraged buyout, broken down into $900 million in equity and a whopping $1.775 billion in “high-yield” debt, whatever that means, tells me that we’re playing serious ball here. (And for those of you who can do the math and wonder why those numbers don’t add up to $2.55 billion, that’s because they include ‘associated expenses’ of around $125 million). While the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce currently holds the entire debt, Barry Critchley, a columnist for The National Post, writes that there are “other bankers who are anxious to get a piece of the action.” (Gee, and I thought my mortgage payments were enough of a windfall for those banker boys.)
Now consider the personal stakes of Bloom, Shoppers’ chairman and chief executive officer, the 20-odd other senior executives and the 650-plus associate owners. They’re coughing up between $90 million and $135 million of the equity. If each associate were to buy $10,000 in private shares, that would still leave at least $83.5 million hanging over the heads of the senior execs.
I may live in the country and all, but any way you slice it that’s a whole lot of money on the line. Yet by all accounts this is touted to be a sure bet. Rapid, profitable growth is in the cards.
Since Bloom became head of Shoppers Drug Mart in 1983, he has more than doubled the franchise’s store count (to 823) and almost quadrupled its annual revenue (to $4.2 billion). He’s always talked about breaking the 1,000-store barrier, and KKR et al. have apparently agreed to this, giving it a five-year timeframe (which also happens to be the amount of time Bloom has promised to stay on as chairman and C.E.O.).
And that’s just the growth we can see from the outside. From the inside, massive re-engineering in the mid 1990s, including an award-winning information technology system, is cutting costs and improving efficiencies. Not to mention new marketing and store designs that put pharmacy practice front and centre.
Add to this the new board of directors, which represent an impressive pooling of experience and talent from a broad range of top-performing investment firms, and you can only wonder at the growth that is to come.
So it’s important that we not underestimate the impact of the KKR-led purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart. While some analysts and Bloom himself have said it’s just “business as usual,” it’s anything but. This multi-billion dollar transaction, high-yield debt and all, is pumping adrenalin into a company that is already performing at a level well above the industry average.
And to all of you who would sneer at such a statement, since we all know that for many the love-hate relationship with Shoppers Drug Mart runs deep, I only ask, what are you doing to mark the new millennium?