Nassim Khadem Reporter

Nassim covers the accounting and tax rounds for BRW, as well as general business news. She previously worked for The Age newspaper covering general news, state politics and economics.

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Meet Eric Wiseman, the man who wants Billabong

Published 15 January 2013 12:30, Updated 28 January 2013 10:44

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Meet Eric Wiseman, the man who wants Billabong

The outcome of the bidding war for Billabong is expected to unfold over the coming weeks – with neither guaranteed to win – but there’s no doubt Eric Wiseman is a formidable player, with almost 30 years’ experience in the apparel industry. Source: vimeo.com

With a $24 million price tag, and a track record of transforming a small apparel company into a major global brand, Eric Wiseman is a chief executive in high demand.

The man who is leading a rival bid for Billabong is the chairman and chief executive of North Carolina-based apparel and lifestyle company VF Corporation, and is the 43rd best-paid chief executive in the US, according to Forbes’ CEO Compensation list. Although his base salary is $1.1 million, with bonuses and stock gains his total compensation is estimated by Forbes to be $24.04 million.

In September last year VF, which currently has 30 major global brands under its banner, announced a target of $US1.1 billion in revenue in its Asia-Pacific business alone in the next five years. This followed an announcement in March 2011 of targeting $12.7 billion in revenues by 2015 through the company’s wholesale and direct-to-consumer businesses.

Its overall sales are intended to mainly come from VF’s outdoor and action sports businesses, driven primarily by strong growth in The North Face, Vans, Napapijri and Kipling brands.

Asian growth will come primarily through VF’s five largest brands – Timberland, Lee, The North Face, Vans and Kipling – but acquisitions could also play a major part. If Wiseman succeeds in nailing the takeover of Australia’s iconic surfwear brand Billabong, it could go a long way in helping reach the company’s Asian growth targets.

VF is part of an American consortium, which includes US private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners, that this week matched a takeover bid lodged in December by another group led by Billabong board member Paul Naude.

The outcome of the bidding war is expected to unfold over the coming weeks – with neither guaranteed to win – but there’s no doubt Wiseman is a formidable player, with almost 30 years’ experience in the apparel industry.

He joined VF in 1995, initially heading the company’s sportswear group. He also serves as a director of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a major US industry group, and as a director of health insurer CIGNA Corporation and US retailer Lowe’s Companies.

Wiseman is applauded not just for taking the company through remarkable growth, but also actively promoting various social and environmental initiatives. After improving VF’s Asia-Pacific revenue almost fivefold since 2007, Wiseman now wants to increase it by 20 per cent over the next five years. China currently makes up about half of the region’s total revenue, and is expected to account for 60 per cent by 2017.

His focus is on growing the company’s four key areas – outdoor, youth culture, jeans wear and casual bags – not just in China, but also in India where VF currently markets its Lee, Wrangler and Vans brands. Revenue from India is expected to grow at an annual rate of 22 per cent, and increase from 8 per cent to 10 per cent of total Asia-Pacific revenue by 2017.

In a speech in China last year, Wiseman hinted that the secret of VF’s success “is we have a little bit more knowledge, a little bit better information about consumers than most apparel companies”.

The question is, can he convince others that’s true and secure the Billabong takeover?

Now read: Has Billabong found its natural home?

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