It’s no surprise, but Mike Ashley feels the humiliation of being paralysed by money | Philip Oltermann

Mike Ashley is struggling to survive being financially and morally crippled by the humiliation he has been dealing with in South Africa after losing a failed Ibrox takeover. He and his second wife, Carolyn,…

It’s no surprise, but Mike Ashley feels the humiliation of being paralysed by money | Philip Oltermann

Mike Ashley is struggling to survive being financially and morally crippled by the humiliation he has been dealing with in South Africa after losing a failed Ibrox takeover. He and his second wife, Carolyn, live in Oxfordshire with their children, but has been reduced to ranting about the dangers of South African politics and the imagined political vendettas of wealthy despots. Under Ashley’s ownership, the old Gazza paint shop and Manchester United ticket office have become tourist attractions. It is a humbling and miserable experience for the billionaire.

Ashley’s predicament is eerily reminiscent of that of Sir Tom Hunter in the 1990s, who also became financially and morally crippled by the sheer size of his business empire, which included everything from shirt makers to safari companies to china. Hunter began to believe what Hunter once said about how business kills one’s marriage (“I don’t know where the hell I went wrong,” he said).

The problem is that fortunes are hard to put back together, despite the best efforts of businessmen to do so. The Hunter phenomenon was the leading anecdote in the sixth edition of Disrupters: The Rise of Brave New Towns and Suburbs in Britain, which traced the evolution of “multi-decade, multi-billion-pound town regeneration”.

In more recent years, I have read business reports and business journal columns that have featured Hunter, Andrew Mason, the serial entrepreneur of Groupon and Chinese retail billionaire Suning (to pick two examples), which state that despite the lure of wealth and power, people learn not to be as greedy as the very wealthy. It’s a lesson perhaps, but one that few can dispense in large company boardrooms and even fewer if they happen to be anywhere outside England.

Ashley, like Hunter, has inadvertently built a huge estate of financial and moral issues that becomes ever more thorny when financial and political pressure from other owners is brought to bear. In the unlikely event that Ashley were to be able to improve Ibrox, he’d be faced with a massive cost-cutting exercise (rent-a-goons in training at £1,200 a week, rooftop bollards at £1,000 a year).

Ashley’s failure to divest himself of the business in South Africa is a worry because he can’t even say where he’s putting the expensive PSV billboards he paid so much for.

Without the public’s trust, regardless of his business acumen, Ashley is a living embodiment of the phrase that finance loses money because it doesn’t know what it’s doing, which should be a more fitting name for any organisation that may wish to move beyond its past financial and political problems.

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