As Sport Direct’s founder Mike Ashley freely admits, he can’t be “house trained”.
And the maverick billionaire proved it again last week with the intriguing move to acquire an 11% chunk of ailing fashion chain French Connection.
At the same time, Sports Direct is also reportedly looking to bid for the bankrupt Eastern Outfitters – the parent of US discount chain Bob’s Stores and outdoor retailer Eastern Mountain Sports.
As independent analyst Nick Bubb put it, Ashley is “up to his old tricks again”.
So why would he want to get involved with French Connection?
The London-headquartered retailer has endured five straight years of losses as its boss and founder Stephen Marks has grappled with reviving its glory days.
Marks is also facing intense pressure from investors over the way he is running the company.
Several theories have been put forward for Ashley’s interest in French Connection.
One school of thought is that a link-up with the retailer would help Sports Direct boost its fashion credentials.
Ashley has declared he wants to make his beloved business the “Selfridges of Sport” as it steers away from the “pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” tactics of yesteryear.
As part of this, Sports Direct has been seeking to boost its premium fashion division, which includes the likes of Flannels, USC, Cruise and Van Mildert.
“It’s no secret that the entrepreneur loves a gamble, which was laid bare when he admitted he had been on a jaunt to the casino prior to “wadgate” last year”
Flannels is regarded as a particular area of growth for Sports Direct and it is making an Oxford Street site it acquired last year a flagship for the chain.
Bubb suggests Ashley’s move could be an effort to “drag” French Connection into this division.
Could it be an attempt then by Ashley to eventually make a bid itself for French Connection?
Another theory is that Ashley’s investment is simply an effort to make some money.
It’s no secret that the entrepreneur loves a gamble, which was laid bare when he admitted he had been on a jaunt to the casino prior to “wadgate” last year. He also has a £40m corporate jet to pay for.
French Connection bosses appeared cheered by the news, helped by a healthy spike in its share price. A statement said it regarded the investment as a “vote of confidence in the true potential of our company”.
Ashley of course has a history of taking stakes in other retailers – including Tesco, House of Fraser and Debenhams.
But while Sports Direct remains under intense pressure to get its house in order, it may appear strange to some investors that he is bothering to get distracted with random investments.
As Bubb says of the French Connnection share buy: “It’s hardly worth the time and effort.”
But if there’s anything that Mike Ashley-watchers have learnt, it is not to second guess him.