Insolvency Proceedings

Kettler Steers Away From U.S. Creditor

kettcar_picture alliance_dpa
One of Kettler's most famous children's toys: the Kettcar. Source. Jörg Carstensen/DPA
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A state-backed restructuring plan aims to put the financially trouble sporting goods and bicycle maker back on track

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Kettler was established in 1949.
    • The company filed for bankruptcy on June 3.
    • Its biggest creditor is The Carlyle Group.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Karin Kettler has taken a huge step forward in the battle to keep her family-owned sporting goods and bicycle maker in family hands, having put together a restructuring plan and securing financing guaranteed by the state of North-Rhine Westphalia.

With the moves, Ms. Kettler aims to steer clear of a possible acquisition by the U.S. private equity firm, The Carlyle Group.

Earlier in the year, the equity firm acquired €12 million, or $13.5 million, in loans Kettler had with Commerzbank, making it the company’s largest creditor.

On June 2,  Kettler filed for self-administered insolvency, allowing shareholders and management to stay in control of the company. Initial attempts to secure financing failed.

“From January the stores will continue to operate unaffected by the proceeeding, with a new financing group made up of regional institutions from North Rhine-Westphalia and a completely revised corporate structure”

Christoph Schulte-Kaubregger,, Attorney with White & Case

Handelsblatt has obtained a copy of a resecue plan that Ms. Kettler put together with advisors. The plan calls for a complete restructuring of the company and a new financial base guaranteed by the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Christoph Schulte-Kaubregger from law firm White & Case is acting as preliminary trustee to assist Kettler’s management team and Thorsten Prigge from law firm Aderhold is acting as its legal advisor. Carlyle is being advised by Latham & Watkins.

The process could be completed by the beginning of year. “From January, the stores will continue to operate unaffected by the proceeeding, with a new financing group made up of regional institutions from North Rhine-Westphalia and a completely revised corporate structure”, Mr. Prigge said.

heinz kettler_Kettler
Feinz Kettler founded the company in 1949. Source: Kettler

 

Kettler’s problems have a history, which begins with complex structure. Founder Heinz Kettler – probably for tax reasons – founded more than 30 companies, some highly profitable others not. As part of the new restructuring plan, this number should decrease.

Complexity in the type of product and its production needs to be reduced, according to Christian Krause, head of the Aderhold law firm who is managing the company on an interim basis together with former Ludger Buschea, who headed the company’s U.S. operations. The four divisions comprising bikes, garden furniture, fitness equipment and children’s toys, Mr. Krause said, although production will be restricted to the Sauerland sites.

Redundancies are expected to be less than 200, considerably less than the 400 previously reported by the media. Kettler currently employs 1,100 people.

Torsten Kasubke, representative of Germany’s IG Metall workers union remains cautious: “ I would welcome a new management,” he said. The workers camp is ready for a solution but he points out: “If all the creditors are fully satisfied, then it wont only be the employees pulling the short straw.” On 8 September, Kettler empoyees will meet to set out their strategy, Kasubke said.

What made the market leader an insolvency case was the issue of succession, a typical problem in family-backed companies, where the founder builds the company with a visionary concept but fails to cleanly pass on to the next generation. Before his death in 2005, there was a bottleneck in investment in the company, people close to the company say.

Anja Müller writes about family and small- and medium-sized firms. Bert-Friedrich Fröndhoff is the deputy head of the companies and markets section at Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: mueller@handelsblatt.com and froendhoff@handelsblatt.com

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