Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

How to Make a Fortune Drinking, Gambling and Napping

  • Testimony describes meetings at pubs, drinking contests
  • Ashley accused of failing to pay promised bonus to ex-banker

In a corporate world where executive suites are filled with trim, marathon-running, salad-eating, MBA-educated leaders, Mike Ashley stands out—by stature, by behavior, and by the self-deprecating way he describes the crasser episodes of his lavish life atop Sports Direct Plc, the U.K. retailer he founded and made a fixture of shopping streets.

That’s the takeaway from days of court hearings that transfixed the U.K. public, with newspapers eagerly writing up every twist of the outlandish anecdotes that spilled forth from Ashley and his former employee, Jeffrey Blue. The ex-banker alleges that Ashley promised him 15 million pounds ($19.5 million) to double the company’s share price during a drinking session at a pub. A judge rejected the claim on Wednesday, saying “no reasonable person would have thought the offer to pay Mr. Blue was serious.”

Mike Ashley
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The courtroom scenes, which read in parts more like a script to the next “Hangover” movie sequel than a day in the life of the chairman of one of the U.K.’s biggest companies, present an executive who parties hard, likes his drink, and knows where to take a break: under the conference-room table.

Here are nine quotes illustrating Ashley’s role in the drama:

Blue on Ashley’s senior management meetings

“It was effectively a ‘pub lock-in,’” Blue said. “Mr. Ashley challenged a young Polish analyst in my team, Pawel Pawlowski, to a drinking competition: Mr. Ashley and Pawel would drink pints of lager, with vodka “chasers” between each pint, and the first to leave the bar area for whatever reason was declared the loser. After approximately twelve pints and chasers, Pawel apologised profusely and had to excuse himself. Mr. Ashley then vomited into the fireplace located in the center of the bar, to huge applause from his senior management team.”

Ashley on his drinking habits

“I like to get drunk, I’m a power drinker,” Ashley said of his habits around alcohol. “I’m trying to get drunk—will you accept that? I was drinking to get pissed and have a good night out.”

Blue on Ashley’s working habits

In his witness statement, Blue described Ashley’s attitude towards business meetings: “his ability to express boredom and frustration during client meetings knew no limits, including various episodes where he would lie underneath meeting room tables to ‘have a nap.’”

Ashley on his management of Sports Direct

“I am not Obi-Wan Kenobi in charge of the Death Star,” was how Ashley described his management of Sports Direct, referring to a character from the Star Wars film series.

Ashley on his physique

Ashley had time to pause for some candid reflection during the case: “Honestly, I am fat enough. I don’t need any more food.”

On Ashley using games of ‘spoof’ to make business decisions

Blue said that Ashley tried to avoid paying legal fees, and used ‘spoof,’ a game of chance, to attempt to gamble his way out of paying: “In order to resolve the situation, Mr. Ashley proposed a game of spoof… Mr. Ashley lost the hand of spoof and the £750,000 in legal fees was paid to Merrill Lynch.”

Ashley on his wealth

“I was already fabulously wealthy. What do you think? That in the morning I would go out and buy the neighbor’s house? I already owned it.”

On attempts to influence non-executive directors

Blue described a particular incident after an alcohol-fueled night with non-executive directors: “Mr. Ashley came into the office I shared with Mr. Forsey, outraged that the non-executive directors were, in his view, hypocrites. Mr. Ashley said words to the effect of: ‘How dare they lecture me about corporate governance when they’re all happy to sit around and get pissed on 3,000-pound bottles of wine at the company’s expense and then go to a casino, not believing their ... luck when they wake up the next morning with a 20,000-pound casino chip in their pocket or purse.’”

Using hindsight, Ashley regretted attending the pub meeting 

“I would have rather put needles in my eyes than go to a thing like that.”

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