BROWN-FORMAN is still “very committed” to its Finlandia vodka unit, despite struggling sales in major Russian and eastern European markets, according to Marshall Farrer, head of the distiller’s global travel retail business and a company director. Farrer’s remarks, at the annual TFWA World Exhibition & Conference now under way in Cannes, followed industry speculation earlier this year that Brown-Forman had placed Finlandia on the auction block (Spirits Business).
KINDRED said it completed its previously announced agreement to sell 12 long-term acute care hospitals in six states for $27.5 million to Curahealth, an affiliate of the private investment fund Nautic Partners. The hospitals have a total of 783 licensed beds in Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee (press release). The Louisville-based hospital and nursing giant employs about 2,200 workers in the city, including at the Fourth and Broadway headquarters downtown. It has more than 100,000 workers nationwide.
George Garvin BrownIV, a great-great grandson of the young pharmaceuticals salesman who started Brown-Forman in 1870, stepped onto a dais at the whiskey giant’s annual stockholders meeting today, and told an amusing story about a subject that might otherwise have been deadly dull: brand loyalty.
It was 9:30 a.m., and several hundred stockholders had assembled in a conference room at the white-collanaded headquarters on Dixie Highway west of downtown. On a classically muggy Louisville summer morning, this was a dressy crowd. Many of the men wore dark suits, crisp white shirts, and boarding school repp ties. Women wore tailored dresses, or smart skirts paired with jackets, and an occasional pearl necklace. People were tan and slim and — in the case of the many Browns there — very, very rich.
This was a business event, but it felt as much like a family reunion, too — because, after all, a core group of Browns control the company through an equity stake worth well north of $6 billion. Garvin Brown, who is 47 and lives mostly in London, was running the meeting as chairman of the board. Seated nearby in Chippendale-style chairs facing the audience were the other 11 directors up for re-election.
This is the story Brown told. He was on a flight from London to Warsaw for a meeting with the Brown-Forman team responsible for the company’s growing business in Poland. Brown had lucked out, scoring one of his favorite seats — aisle, in a roomy exit row — with two empty ones between him and the window. Then a British man, one of the many harried road warriors aboard, arrived to take the window seat. He asked for a Jack Daniel’s, Brown-Forman’s most profitable brand, when the flight attendant rolled the snack cart down the aisle. Here, Brown’s ears perked up.
But the airline was all out. Would the Brit settle for another brand of whiskey, the attendant asked, perhaps a Johnnie Walker? Nope, he replied, and asked for a glass of champagne instead. As Brown pointed out to the audience, here was a man so loyal to Jack Daniel’s, he’d sooner drink airline champagne than just any other whiskey.
That’s how Brown eased the stockholders into a more formal presentation by CEO Paul Varga, who deployed many bar charts and fever graphs showing return on shareholder equity over one year, five years, and 20 years — important stuff, to be sure, but not quite as compelling as Brown’s literally on-the-fly market research.
A news summary, focused on big employers; updated 3:13 p.m.
GE: Haier has opened a new refrigerator factory in Russia to serve increasing demand from the European market. The new plant is the first joint Sino-Russian business project in a non-energy field (China.org). Back in the U.S., Haier wants its product development model to be more collaborative with its supply chain (Plastic News). The Chinese company could close on its $5.4 billion purchase of GE’s appliance business as soon as today. Meanwhile, GE is considering scrapping annual raises, as well as the longstanding and much-imitated system of rating employees on a five-point scale — moves that could lead other major companies to reconsider their own compensation plans (Bloomberg).
FORD reshuffled China sales leadership: Dave Schoch, group vice president and president of Asia Pacific, will take over and add the title of chairman and chief executive officer, Ford China. “As our growth plans in China have developed, this market is delivering an increasingly important portion of our revenue and profits globally,” CEO Mark Fields said. “Elevating the reporting of this business right now reflects China’s importance in our profitable growth plan going forward” (press release). Ford shares were up 1.2% to $13.19 40 minutes before the closing bell.
KFC will temporarily close at least some of its 12 restaurants in the southern African nation of Botswana this week after being placed under partial bankruptcy liquidation. Franchiser VPB Propco said it had been trying to the sell the restaurants for the past year without success, and the only option left was to shutter them, eliminating 400 jobs (Bloomberg). KFC clarified that the liquidation will not affect its business in neighboring South Africa (AFK Insider).
BROWN-FORMAN: Two of the newly appointed members of the board of directors — Campbell Brown and Marshall Farrer — have disclosed stock holdings in the family controlled spirits and wine company. Brown listed sole ownership of 805,313 Class A shares, and 312,208 Class B shares (SEC document). Farrer listed sole ownership of 315 Class A shares, and 116 Class B (SEC document). Both men also disclosed beneficial ownership of thousands of other A and B shares, but because some are counted twice as a result of overlapping trusts, it’s unclear how many shares are involved.
The new Fortune 500 list of the biggest-revenue companies includes three in Louisville. HUMANA (No. 52); YUM (218); and KINDRED (372). They all appeared on the magazine’s list last year, too. Walmart held onto the No. 1 spot in the rankings published today (Fortune).
TEXAS ROADHOUSE: A customer at a Dallas area restaurant regrets a missed opportunity for romance with another diner. “I was sitting outside with my two boys waiting to be seated,” he wrote in the Craigslist Missed Connections section. “You came out and we locked eyes. . . . You then asked if you knew me! You were hot, but I was honest and said no. I wouldn’t mind getting to know you tho! 😉 tell me what you looked like or what you were wearing” (Craigslist Dallas).
In other news, the late boxing heavyweight and humanitarian Muhammad Ali will be buried Friday at Cave Hill Cemetery, a decision the Louisville native made that will raise the profile of the storied burial ground. Ali died late Friday at a Phoenix hospital after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74, and lived principally in Phoenix. His family asked that expressions of sympathy take the form of donations to the Muhammad Ali Center downtown (WFPL). About the Muhammad Ali Center.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and other major stock indices rose shortly before noon as investors look toward a speech by Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen (Google Finance). All 11 big employers in Boulevard’s Stock Portfolio were trading higher.
A news summary, focused on big employers; updated 7:40 p.m.
BROWN-FORMAN shifted its 13-member board of directors, electing Campbell Brown, Marshall Farrer, and Laura Frazier, effective today. The company also announced a regular quarterly dividend, and a special two-for-one stock split for both voting Class A and non-voting Class B shares. The split shares are expected to be issued to stockholders of record around Aug. 8, and distributed about Aug. 18 (press release). This is the 12th split since shares were first listed in 1933 after Prohibition’s repeal; the most recent was a three-for-two in July 2012. (Dividend history.)
The three new directors are all fifth-generation descendants of George Garvin Brown, who founded the distiller in 1870. “This election continues a multi-year evolution of Brown family representation on the board,” the company said. “As part of this process, Martin S. Brown Jr., Sandra Frazier, and management director James Welch Jr. — who’s retiring as vice chairman on Tuesday — have elected not to stand for re-election at the annual stockholders’ meeting in July” (press release also includes bios of new directors). Brown-Forman said the directors’ decision to exit the board wasn’t due to a disagreement with the company (SEC filing).
The company didn’t disclose the new directors’ ages; those retiring are in their 40s and 50s. (Executive and board profiles.) Today’s moves were not unexpected; the Brown descendants effectively control the company through their ownership of more than 50% of the Class A voting stock, and have historically voted as a bloc (2015 proxy report). Of particular note, Laura Frazier is owner, chairman, and past-CEO of Bittners, the more than 160-year-old high-end interior design firm on East Main Street in NuLu. At the end of trading today, Class A shares closed at $104.21, down 25 cents.
KINDRED just filed a raft of documents disclosing stock awards to members of the board of directors (SEC filings; look for all Forms 4 on today’s date). Also, the hospital and nursing home giant disclosed the breakdown of yesterday’s shareholder vote tallies at the annual company meeting; no surprises (SEC filing). Yesterday, Kindred had only reported that stockholders approved the executive compensation plan, and re-elected the full slate of 11 directors to the governing board — but without providing details.
KFC Canada says a much-loved, one-of-only-two-left, all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, won’t be shut down after all — yet, anyway. Residents had taken to social media this week when rumors circulated the buffet was a goner. A sit-in was planned for yesterday. Even high government officials got involved: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall took to Twitter (see below) on Tuesday, asking Yum to reconsider. The Weyburn KFC buffet was the first to open among the Canadian franchises in 1988; there’s now just one other left, in Saskatchewan’s Humbodlt (Global News).
Elsewhere in KFC land, actress Ann Hathaway jokingly compared comedian James Corden to a 16-piece you-know-what during a rap battle on The Late Late Show last night. “You look like a KFC bucket with a lot of extra breasts,” she said (Express).
UPS and its 2,500-member Independent Pilots Association union are making progress on bargaining a new contract (Courier-Journal). The pilots have been working under the terms of their previous contract for five years, and the union late last month set up a strike center here in Louisville.
GE: Qingdao Haier Co. has launched India’s first 44-lb. capacity washing machine. The Chinese company’s pending $5.4 billion purchase of Appliance Park is expected to close this summer (Newkerala and Courier-Journal).
In other news, the University of Louisville Foundation paid President James Ramsey $2.8 million in 2014, according to its newly disclosed IRS tax return (WDRB). The return “appears to belie Ramsey’s claim last year that his compensation in 2013 was an anomaly” (Courier-Journal). The disclosure came one day after a published report that the foundation lagged many other Kentucky school foundations in annual investment performance.
Finally, Louisville Magazine has released the finalists in its annual Best of Louisville awards for businesses and individuals (Louisville).
News about business and culture in Louisville, Ky.