Billionaire buys iconic bootmaker R.M Williams
Iconic Adelaide bootmaker R.M. Williams has been bought by billionaire mining tycoon Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, returning the renowned firm to Australian ownership.
In a vote of confidence in domestic manufacturing, the investment group owned by Dr Forrest and wife Nicola has bought the 88-year-old company from private equity firm L Catterton for a rumoured $190 million.
Founded in 1932 by legendary bushman Reginald Murray Williams, the boot, apparel and leathercraft manufacturer has 900 Australian employees, including 400 at its Salisbury workshop in Adelaide's north.
Film star Hugh Jackman will remain as global boot ambassador but relinquish a five per cent stake.
The takeover, to be announced today, follows successive hits to South Australian manufacturing icons, including the closure of Holden's Elizabeth plant in 2017 and the announcement last week of West End Brewery's shutdown next June. It is understood the Forrests are considering shifting R.M. Williams' head office from Sydney to Adelaide.
Dr Forrest said his family "has a big, solid lump in its throat about returning R.M. Williams back to Australia" and wanted to build on its quintessentially Australian legacy of quality.
"We'd like to employ more Australians and get more of these fantastic boots out to people who just love to wear a quality boot which you can pass on from mum to daughter and father to son," he said.
"R.M. Williams - I just want to see that grow. I just want to see this organisation grow and grow with Australian craftsmanship, Australian quality, Australian reputation and back in Australian hands."
Mrs Forrest, who wears the R.M. boots bought for her 20-year-old son a decade ago, said: "We can't wait to get to South Australia and meet the team that are there making the beautiful boots and getting to know who's part of this company.
"By bringing R.M. Williams back into Australian hands, we will ensure the Australian craftmanship continues to be loved and worn all around the world."
Dr Forrest, the second-richest Australian and Fortescue Metals Group chairman, said he retained his first pair of R.M. Williams boots, given to him as a Christmas present as a teenager, and wore them on special family occasions.
The Forrests' private investment group Tattarang, one of Australia's largest, in September lodged an unsolicited bid for R.M. Williams and fended off interest from private equity firm TPG Capital, which reportedly had been poised to buy the boot and apparel maker for about $200 million.
R.M. Williams chief executive officer Raju Vuppalapati said repositioning of the brand under L Catterton had resulted in significant growth, making the brand the strongest it had been in its 88-year history.
This included a decision last year to invest in a second boot line and train 100 extra workers at the Salisbury workshop.
"The R.M. Williams team and I look forward to Andrew and Nicola's stewardship as we enter the next exciting phase of surprising and delighting our consumers with handcrafted products made in Australia," he said.
Originally published as Billionaire buys iconic bootmaker R.M Williams