Thieves ‘R’ Us!

Bankruptcy judge approves $14M Toys R Us executive bonus payout

USA Today, Dec. 5, 2017

BERGEN COUNTY, N.J. — The judge overseeing the Toys R Us bankruptcy case ruled Tuesday that the insolvent retailer can pay its 17 top executives $14 million in incentive bonuses.

Toys R Us, which is based in Wayne, N.J., agreed to trim its original $16 million bonus proposal by $2 million, and to make $5 million of the bonus payout contingent on the company creating a business plan that allows it to emerge from bankruptcy.

The company said the bonuses are necessary because they motivate executives to boost sales during the critical holiday shopping season.

Bankruptcy Judge Keith Phillips overruled objections by the U.S. Trustee’s office, which serves as a public watchdog in bankruptcy cases, that executives at Toys R Us are already highly paid compared to other retail leaders, and that they also receive lavish perks, such as cars and drivers and private airplane trips.

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How vulture capitalists ate Toys ‘R’ Us

The Week, March 16, 2018

Just a few years ago, Toys ‘R’ Us was an iconic American retailer. Six months ago, it filed for bankruptcy. Two days ago, it announced that all 800 of its American stores, and all 100 of its British ones, are closing or being sold. As many as 33,000 workers could lose their jobs.

What happened to America’s biggest toy store?

Simply put, vulture capitalists ate it.

Our story begins in 2004. After big success in the 1980s, Toys ‘R’ Us’ performance turned lackluster in the 1990s. Sales were flat and profits shrank. Toys ‘R’ Us was a public company at the time, and the board of directors decided to put it up for sale. The buyers were a real estate investment firm called Vornado, and two private equity firms named KKR and Bain Capital. (You may remember the latter from 2012 campaign ads: It was co-founded by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, though he’d moved on well before this.)

The trio put up $6.6 billion to pay off Toys ‘R’ Us’ shareholders. But it was a leveraged buyout: Only 20 percent came out out of the buyers’ pockets. The other 80 percent was borrowed. Once Toys ‘R’ Us was acquired, it became responsible for paying off that massive debt burden, while also paying Bain Capital and the other two firms exorbitant advisory and management fees.

In theory, everyone wins in a leveraged buyout. It’s supposed to take an ailing company private and retool it into a leaner and more effective business. Then it’s sold back to public shareholders for a profit. The buyers make money; the shareholders get a healthier business; the workers stay employed.

What actually happened was Toys ‘R’ Us continued to stagnate. The company never really figured out how to respond to the changing market, or the rise of online retail. And it missed out on some opportunities, like licensing the Star Wars and Lego movie brands. Meanwhile, rising inequality and wage stagnation ate away at the broadly distributed middle-class consumer base that Toys ‘R’ Us and other retailers traditionally relied upon.

Whatever magic Bain, KKR, and Vornado were supposed to work never materialized. From the purchase in 2004 through 2016, the company’s sales never rose much above $11 billion. They actually fell from $13.5 billion in 2013 back to $11.5 billion in 2017.

On its own, that shouldn’t have been catastrophic. The problem was the massive financial albatross the leveraged buyout left around Toys ‘R’ Us’ neck. Just before the buyout, the company had $2.2 billion in cash and cash-equivalents. By 2017, its stockpile had shriveled to $301 million, even as its debt burden ballooned from $2.3 billion to $5.2 billion. Meanwhile, Toys ‘R’ Us was paying $425 million to $517 million in interest every year.

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