The small group who went drinking at the Horse & Groom pub in central London on January 24, 2013, have very different views on how the evening went.
For Peter Tracey, a banker who met Sports Direct and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley for the first time that night, it was great fun.
“What I do recall is particularly the banter around the football,” Tracey told the High Court in London this week. “There was a huge amount of laughter that night.”
Ashley, however, told the same court he “would have rather put needles in my eyes than go to that meeting.”
The get-together — which moved to Soho bar The Lounge after the pub — could end up costing Ashley £15 million ($A25.4 million). The billionaire appeared in court this week to give evidence in the case against him brought by Jeff Blue, a former advisor who was at the January 2013 meeting.
Blue claims Ashley agreed to pay him a £15 million bonus at the pub if he could help double Sports Direct’s share price from £4 to £8. Ashley says it was simply “drink banter,” and that he doesn’t recall the conversation because he was drunk.
“I’m a person who spends 99% of his life driving forward, not driving the car with the rear-view mirror,” Ashley told the court on Thursday. “No one in my position” could remember every conversation, he said.
Ashley, who owns more than 60% of Sports Direct, said that he doesn’t focus on the company’s share price when it comes to calculating his own wealth, and so would not have made such a deal.
“It doesn’t make any difference if the shares go to £20 if you don’t sell them,” he said. “They’re wallpaper. What’s the difference between £7 or £9 if I don’t intend to sell them?”
The extraordinary trial has shone light on Mike Ashley’s unconventional business style and his extraordinary capacity for drink.
Blue alleged he witnessed Ashley challenge a junior stock analyst to a drinking contest at a management meeting in a pub. Ashley won after 12 pints with vodka chasers, before promptly vomiting into the pub fireplace to cheers from the managers.
Ashley disputes many of Blue’s claims and says the former Merrill Lynch banker is simply trying to damage his reputation by making outlandish claims in court. Ashley said one allegation — that he personally paid Sports Direct’s former CEO Dave Forsey up to £1 million a year privately — was “utter bulls***.”
However, what isn’t disputed is Ashley’s fondness for beer.
“I’m a binge drinker,” Ashley told the court on Thursday, probably the first time the CEO of a FTSE-listed company has made that statement. He treated the court to a blow-by-blow account of his usual drinking routine.
“The second pint would probably be between 10 and, at most, 15 minutes,” he said. “The third pint is, what, 30 minutes-ish? Are you slowing down then? Within the first hour you would have had between four and five pints.”
The case, which began last Monday, is set to run until next Wednesday, with a verdict due later in the year.
Business Insider has been at the trial this week. Read more of our coverage:
- Things Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has allegedly done in meetings: napped, held drinking contests, vomited in a fireplace
- Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley ‘once cleaned a Mayfair restaurant out of £3,000 wine’
- Mike Ashley made ‘personal payments’ of up to £1 million to Sports Direct CEO that were ‘not documented,’ court told
- Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley allegedly agreed to pay £750,000 bill after guessing game with banker
- MIKE ASHLEY: Allegations of mixing drinking with business ‘intended to damage my reputation’
- Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley: ‘I’m not Obi-Wan Kenobi in charge of the Death Star’
- ‘I’m a power drinker:’ A night out with Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley in his own words