* Bonomi's bid for Club Med trumps French-Chinese offer
* Club Med CEO prefers offer with French participation
* Bonomi seeking comeback after Italian bank plan failed
By Lisa Jucca and Dominique Vidalon
MILAN/PARIS, July 4 Late on May 23, Italian
financier Andrea Bonomi phoned executives at his country's two
largest banks seeking more than 200 million euros ($273 million)
in loans to help him bid for French holiday resort company Club
For the 48-year-old businessman, taking over Club Med, a
storied brand struggling to improve profitability, would be the
biggest challenge since he revived the fortunes of motorcycle
maker Ducati in the mid-2000s.
It would also provide redemption from what Bonomi has
described as his personal Vietnam: failing earlier in the year
in an ambitious revamp of Italy's Banca Popolare di Milano
, a wealthy lender that needed restructuring after
running into legal difficulties.
"The response from the Italian banks was overwhelmingly
positive," Bonomi told Reuters this week about his loan request.
Over the same weekend, he mustered the support of three
investors with expertise in the tourism sector and put together
a team of 18 ready to comb through Club Med's books.
Five weeks later, Bonomi unveiled a 21 euro-a-share takeover
offer for Club Med, which is best known for pioneering
all-inclusive holiday resorts, outbidding a rival offer at 17.50
euros by French private equity firm Ardian and Chinese group
The June 30 offer, through Bonomi's Investindustrial private
equity fund, values the whole of Club Med at 790 million euros.
It will be financed through a 240 million euro loan equally
split between UniCredit and Intesa, and Bonomi's own cash.
Now a harder phase starts: Bonomi must convince Club Med
shareholders and the French establishment.
Paris has a long and largely-successful history of
protecting local companies from foreign takeovers.
The most recent example: earlier this year Paris intervened
in the sale of French engineering group Alstom, only
agreeing to let U.S. conglomerate General Electric seal a
deal after securing an option to buy 20 percent of the company.
Bonomi has tried to preempt possible objections by promising
big investments in Club Med's French resorts. "One must not
forget France," he told reporters at a Paris news conference.
But on Friday, Club Med Chairman and Chief Executive Henri
Giscard d'Estaing fired the first salvo in the patriotic battle.
In an interview with French daily Le Figaro, he said he
supported the French-Chinese offer for Club Med.
The bid by Ardian and Fosun is "a strict balance between a
French and a Chinese shareholder...(Bonomi's) Global Resorts ...
wants sole control of the Club which would be exclusively in
international hands," he said.
Bonomi has business in his blood. He is the grandson of
Italy's best-known female entrepreneur, Anna Bonomi Bolchini,
who built a construction empire and an impressive portfolio of
other investments in post-War Italy.
Born in New York, Bonomi studied in France, Britain and the
United States and currently lives in Lugano, Switzerland. After
a stint in the private sector, in 1990 he founded a fund called
Investindustrial, which now has some 3 billion euros in assets.
The financier and father of three says he targets firms with
governance and execution problems. He tries to get full
management control, with a 7-10 year horizon for returns.
In 2012, he nearly trebled his investment of six years by
selling a rejuvenated Ducati to Volkswagen 's Audi
for 860 million euros. That year, he also took a major stake in
Aston Martin, the maker of James Bond cars. Then in 2013, he
sold half of Spanish theme park PortAventura to private equity
firm KKR for twice the acquiring price.
Yet Bonomi was not as successful with Banca Popolare di
Milano. He began to buy stock in the bank in 2011 because of the
lender's low valuations and wealthy Milan clientele. With early
support of local unions, he took control of the management board
and then tried to turn the lender into a joint-stock company - a
plan he thought would improve profitability.
But the by-laws of the bank give shareholders at Banca
Popolare di Milano one vote each regardless of the number of
shares owned. The result was that Bonomi was ultimately unable
to sway small shareholders and bank employees to his plan. He
ended up selling his 8.6 percent stake, pocketing a capital gain
but missing out on the subsequent rally in Italian bank stocks.
"Revamping a financial services company is very different
than an industrial restructuring," Bonomi said in his interview
A person who has known Bonomi for years said Club Med was a
fresh start for him. "After the problems at Popolare di Milano,
he needs a high-profile, successful deal," the person said.
In the interview, Bonomi said he considered Club Med an
attractive brand in need of a clearer strategy. Club Med has in
recent years been trying to reposition itself more upmarket,
including with five-star versions of its resorts. Bonomi said
Club Med should be careful not to shun cheaper resorts that have
traditionally been popular with middle-class families.
Club Med has had a roller-coaster financial performance
recently, struggling to eek out profits earlier this decade and
then losing 9 million euros in 2013 as it closed several
resorts. If he prevails, Bonomi would replace current management
at Club Med, but would still choose a French manager to run it,
according to another person close to the Italian financier.
Though Bonomi started buying shares in Club Med in March, he
wasn't originally planning a full bid. But on May 23, the day
the Ardian-Fosun bid was due to expire, France's stock market
regulator asked Bonomi to make clear his plans by May 26.
That left him with 72 hours to see if he had the financial
heft to pull off a takeover. After UniCredit and Intesa's
initial backing, the two banks on June 25 committed to help
finance a deal, according to people familiar with the offer.
In the interview with Reuters, Bonomi acknowledged that
taking over a French company could pose challenges to a foreign
investor. But he noted that tourism was not a strategic sector
and hoped shareholders would appreciate an offer based on a
solid business plan regardless of the nationality.
"Investing in a national icon like Club Med is possible ...
if you do it with responsibility and respect," he said.
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
(Editing by Alessandra Galloni and Mark Potter)