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How Force India got new owners without being sold

NEWS STORY
14/10/2011

On Wednesday it came to light that the ownership of Force India had changed. The team was previously owned 50% by Watson, the holding company of team principal Vijay Mallya, with the other 50% held by Strongwind, the investment vehicle of Dutch businessman Michiel Mol.

Now only 15% of the team is in Mol's hands with 42.5% held by Mallya and another 42.5% owned by new investor, Indian conglomerate Sahara which will put $100m into the team.

Nothing surprising there but then we come to comments from Mallya who said that "I have not sold a single share [in Force India]. None of the existing shareholders are selling anything." How can the team have changed ownership without any of the previous owners selling their shares? Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt is on hand to explain.

For the sake of an easy example, let's pretend that Force India's parent company, which is Orange India Holdings, had 100 shares with 50 owned by Mallya and the other 50 owned by Mol. Then, along comes Sahara which wants to buy into the team and although the owners want to get it onboard as an investor, neither wants to sell their shares.

The solution is for Orange India Holdings to issue more shares (let's say 100 to keep the example simple) and these are then handed to Sahara in exchange for it investing $100m in the company. This gives Sahara 50% of the company in an instant, and leaves Mallya and Mol with 25% (50 shares out of a total of 200) each. The rationale for doing this is that although Mallya and Mol's shareholding goes down in the process it will be worth more than the higher percentage they had without Sahara as an investor.

Crucially, they lower their shareholding without ever selling even one share. Instead, Sahara came on-board by the company issuing new shares which were given to it and this explains why Mallya said "the total [share] capital of the company has increased enormously. None of us sold or bought equity and there will be only restructuring." It is a business manoeuvre which went straight over the head of one blogger however - something which he may already be regretting.

There is no doubt that the market is flooded with F1 blogs and the majority offer little real insight into what is really going on in the sport. A few of them do break early news, which later proves to be accurate, but these are in the minority.

There tend to be multiple problems with the bulk of the blogs: they are verbosely written by people with little or no training in print journalism and often slip into rambles about the personal experience of the blogger plugging products like airline lounges or bemoaning poor customer service.

However, the biggest problem they pose is that they can digress into writing about subjects, such as the business side of F1, in which the blogger has little or no media training. You can count on a few fingers at the very most, the sports bloggers who have covered the business of F1 for the fast-moving world of national newspapers. This lack of experience leads to errors which confuse the readers, which brings us back nicely to Force India.

Over the course of the past two months, one particular blogger has predicted that no less than three F1-related companies would be sold or had already been sold. Of Toro Rosso, he said that "the word is that Aabar has acquired a minority shareholding in the team (around 40 percent) and has an option to increase that to gain control (probably around 60 percent)." This of course came despite a denial from Dietrich Mateschitz, managing director of the team's owner Red Bull, who said: "Toro Rosso isn't up for sale".

The blogger also said "[Genii Capital's co-owner Gerard] Lopez has been quietly working to put together a consortium to buy Group Lotus from [its Malaysian owner] Proton." Proton had a different view of things and released a statement saying that "the alleged moves between Group Lotus and Genii Capital are untrue and.. the reports are highly speculative in nature." Next comes Force India.

On 7 October the blogger reported "the word from India is that Vijay Mallya is on the verge of selling his shares in the Force India team." The blogger later openly admitted that "it is odd that the story got printed in a sensible newspaper in India." This was the first mistake.

By trusting a second hand source, reliability is easy to compromise. The blogger's post contained no evidence that he had put the allegation to Mallya personally about him selling his shares and, surprise surprise, the Indian tycoon soon issued a firm denial applying to both the newspaper and blog reports. It sent the blogger off in a huff and he subsequently wrote that "if there is a sale on the cards which is confirmed at some point in the near future then we will know that Mallya has been lying through his teeth, although for now we are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Mallya said in his statement that "I was shocked to read a media report that I am selling the Force India Formula One team...I have no plans whatsoever to exit." As explained above, this is completely and unequivocally accurate in light of the share issue to Sahara.

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