From goalposts to fishing nets, German investor Windhorst rushes to forgive billion-plus debt | The powerful 790 KFGO
By John O’Donnell and Tom Sims
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Lars Windhorst, the businessman behind German football club Hertha Berlin, has said he will pay back more than one billion euros ($ 1.2 billion) in a matter of months, in selling assets to get rid of debt and stabilize finances.
Windhorst told Reuters in a rare interview that its investments, which include Italian lingerie company La Perla, a 236-meter-tall New York building and a shipbuilder, are worth between $ 3 billion and $ 4 billion, exceeding its debts.
As the main investor in one of Germany’s biggest football clubs, Windhorst’s financial situation is under close scrutiny, not least because the future of Hertha depends on the support of one of the most successful businessmen. more prominent in the country.
Windhorst, who as a teenager left school to make computers and became one of Germany’s best-known entrepreneurs when he was chosen by then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl to take part in trips commercials, maintained a jet-set lifestyle despite declining wealth.
He emerged from two bankruptcies, the first during the dot.com internet crisis and the second during the financial crisis, and made headlines when he walked away from a fatal plane crash in 2007 .
While claiming that its previous financing was “risky”, Windhorst added that it was now rushing to repay up to 1.4 billion euros which it still weighs after a restructuring in May.
“I took big risks. Sometimes things have gone wrong, ”Windhorst told Reuters, adding that he had made“ a lot of mistakes, ”but would soon show that criticism of him was misplaced.
“You just need to be successful and be successful in a sustainable way and prove everyone wrong. That’s why I get up every morning. It is not a question of money.
“I am genuine. I’m honest. We’re here to stay, ”added Windhorst, which earlier this year sold its stake in tech startup Fyber for $ 600 million.
During the week of last month’s interview, Windhorst said he flew from Switzerland to Berlin to pick up his wife, before flying to Los Angeles, New York, Washington and returning to Los Angeles, where he spoke to Reuters via video link.
In addition to restructuring his finances, the 44-year-old German now faces an investigation by Berlin prosecutors into his financial transactions, although he said it was “not something that concerns us”.
Regulators had opposed a € 270 million loan from one company in its group to another, Dutch company Tennor, Windhorst said, adding that it did not break any rules.
“There is nothing strange and exotic about it. It does not violate any banking regulations. We firmly believe that this case will go away, ”he said.
Berlin prosecutors confirmed the criminal investigation, but declined to comment further. If continued, the investigation could see Windhorst, who paid a fine for breach of trust in 2009, return to court.
Windhorst’s involvement with Hertha has coincided with a difficult chapter in the club’s history, which falls far short of its vision of becoming a global brand.
Since Windhorst bought a stake in 2019, Hertha, who play in the German Premier League of the Bundesliga, have fought to avoid relegation and saw the sudden departure of their coach and former German national coach Juergen Klinsmann.
“We want to make sure we get out of the danger zone in the new season,” said Windhorst.
“To my detractors: I succeeded, you didn’t. I paid. You were wrong. It will be the strongest turnaround story of any football club in Germany. We will have a great global brand.
The restructuring of Windhorst stems from the time when H2O Asset Management invested in the debt of companies related to Windhorst.
H2O customers were spooked in 2019 by concerns about the liquidity and governance of Windhorst’s assets, prompting some to withdraw money.
In May, after months of wrangling, Windhorst announced a restructuring of some 2.5 billion euros of debt, reducing it to around 1.5 billion euros through cancellations and repayments, a t he said, reimbursing investors, mainly H2O.
H2O, majority owned by French investment bank Natixis, said the deal would reduce exposure to Windhorst.
Natixis, which announced last year that it would withdraw ownership of H20, declined to comment.
Now Windhorst is looking to write off the “vast majority” of the remaining debt by the end of this year and the rest in 2022.
“We expect more than € 1 billion in cash inflows in the coming months with asset sales,” Windhorst said.
“We want to be debt free by the middle of next year.”
“In the past, we had long-term private debt, which was a risky strategy. We had to be creative and look for more unconventional ways to finance our investments. “
($ 1 = 0.8412 euros)
(Written by John O’Donnell, edited by Alexander Smith)