Unorthodox style serves Monsoon well

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In a rare interview more than two years ago, Peter Simon used an expletive to deride the corporate code, followed by the comment: “You can quote me on that”.

The episode summed up his trademark grumpy manner and uncomfortable relationship with the City.

A talented and colourful retailer, Mr Simon, chairman and founder of Monsoon, has hated the restrictions of the public markets. Having listed Monsoon almost a decade ago, he has spent the past four years trying to take it private again.

On Friday, he finally got his wish. Polygon, a hedge fund that holds 11 per cent of the company, agreed to sell the stake for 424p a share. The agreement ends four years of rancour between the two sides, which began when Mr Simon tried to take Monsoon private for 140p a share. That move was blocked by Polygon.

While his approach to the City and shareholders has been unorthodox, his style has served him well as a retailer. A trip through India and Afghanistan in the 1970s was his starting point. He returned to London to begin selling shoat coats – made from the wool of shoats (a cross between a sheep and a goat) – from a stall in London’s Portobello Road.

From these modest origins, the business became one of the most recognised on the high street. He developed the Monsoon brand, moving it from hippy garb to mainstream women’s wear, and launched Accessorize in the 1980s.

In 1998, a quarter of the company was floated for 198p a share, raising £80m. At the time, Monsoon was worth £350m.

But five years in and Mr Simon wanted out. The shares plummeted on the back of a profits warning, leading to disenchantment with the City. In 2003, the founding family, led by Mr Simon, tried to buy back 20 per cent of the free float using a novel tender method.

The move provoked fury among fund managers, angered that the family was trying to conduct a management buy-out on the cheap. Investors eventually succeeded in dashing the family’s hopes of raising its stake and ensured the family increased its holding by only 3.1 percentage points to 75.5 per cent.

With relations already under strain, Mr Simon moved Monsoon from the main market to Aim, where rules are less stringent, after reducing the free float. This provoked further fury from minority shareholders. He also stopped paying dividends – a policy maintained to this day. To rub salt in the wound, he appointed his brother Anton as a non-executive.

In 2005, after the now infamous expletive-flavoured outburst, Mr Simon again said he wanted to take Monsoon private. In spite of strained relations with shareholders, he bit the bullet and began re-engaging with the City.

In the end, he paid a full price to buy back the stock he did not own. Observers at Friday’s annual meeting said Mr Simon perked up after it was all over. It was probably one of the last bits of corporate governance Mr Simon will have to endure.

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