Canada’s Debt-Dogged Entrepreneur Down But Few Believe He’s Kaput
TORONTO (AP) _ Canadian real estate and retailing magnate Robert Campeau, shoved from the driver’s seat of his own company, may be down but few believe he is out of the picture in efforts to resurrect debt-ridden Campeau Corp.
The board of directors dumped Campeau last Friday, declining to reappoint him as chairman and chief executive officer of the business he built from a small construction concern in 1949 into one of Canada’s largest companies.
He remains a member of the board of directors.
The flamboyant, 66-year-old Campeau bit off more debt than he could chew when he plunged into the American retail market. He gobbled up Allied Stores in 1986 for $3.6 billion and Federated Department Stores, including New York’s Bloomingdale’s and Rich’s of Atlanta, for $6.6 billion in 1988.
In January, Federated and Allied filed for bankruptcy protection and were removed from Campeau’s control. Campeau Corp. reported a 1989 loss of $1.74 billion and has debt exceeding $13.3 billion.
A tough spot, surely. But Campeau has been down before and some feel he already may be plotting his comeback.
″He’s done a lot for his country and he may not be finished,″ said George Hitchman, a member of the board and long-time Campeau loyalist. He said in an interview in the Toronto Star: ″I guess when you’re up, people are with you and when you’re down, they kick you around. That’s life.″
The removal of Campeau does not herald any major shift in company strategy, said Campeau Corp. spokesman Richard Wertheim.
″It appears, at least in the short term, that there aren’t any significant changes expected or planned in the way the company operates or who is operating it in terms of senior management,″ said Wertheim. ″Of course all this took place a couple of days ago and they are still discussing plans. The board is going ahead with finding a permanent chairman and CEO.
″The key point is that the changes made Friday night did not suddenly change the financial picture of the company. Clearly the restructuring that has been underway will have to proceed. There will be perhaps some subtle changes, but no significant ones.″
Campeau lost control of his company when National Bank seized 13 million shares, or about 35 percent, after he defaulted on $150 million in loans. He has been trying to buy back the shares for $80 million, but apparently has not been able to come up with the $40 million down payment.
That payment was due May 31. The bank announced a one-month extension, but since then, neither the bank nor Campeau has commented. He also has shunned requests for interviews before and since he was booted from the chief executive job.
Campeau reportedly had been under increasing pressure to leave because of his hard-line position in renegotiating loans with his principal lenders, Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. and Olympia and York Developments. The company spokesman would not comment on the reasons for Campeau’s removal.
Campeau Corp.’s strategy is to restructure the U.S. operations under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection process, to sell a substantial portion of the company’s real estate in Canada and to reach an agreement on restructuring the debt with the principal lenders.
The plan seems to be progressing reasonably well, Wertheim said. Several properties have been sold in recent months, raising about $82 million. Principal creditors, at least for the moment, seem to prefer helping Campeau Corp. get back on its feet rather than seizing assets.
Campeau also owes $21.5 million to Bank of Montreal and $11.5 million to Bank of Nova Scotia. In addition, he owes $13 million to Campeau Corp. and already has missed a $1 million payment.