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FB Roundup: Heidi Horten, Dave Whelan, Jack Ma

In this week’s FB Roundup, Heidi Horten’s $150 million jewellery collection is put up for auction; Fitness First owner Dave Whelan plans a rent-cutting restructure; and Jack Ma takes up a professor position at a Tokyo university.
Austrian billionaire and art collector Heidi Horten.

Heidi Horten’s $150 million jewellery collection put up for auction
Following her death in June 2022, the $150 million jewelry precious gems collection of Austrian billionaire and art collector Heidi Horten is being put up for auction by Christie's in what is being labelled by The New York Times as one of the largest jewellery auctions in history.

The widow of the controversial German businessman Helmut Horten, who built up and owned Horten AG (the fourth-largest chain of department stores in Germany), Heidi Horton inherited her husband’s then-$1 billion fortune and was famed for her extensive art collection.

Helmut Horton acquired his first department store in Dusseldorf from its Jewish owners in 1933 and, until 1939, obtained several other department stores after developing a relationship with the Nazi government.

“We weighed that up against various factors,” said Anthea Peers, president of Christie's Europe, Middle East and Africa, to The New York Times, referring to the “painful history” that the collection carries.

“This is a sale that will do an enormous amount for philanthropy. That’s important for the estate and for us,” said Peers in relation to the funds that will be raised for the Helmut Horten Stiftung Foundation

In an interview with The Times, Munich-based journalist Stephanie Stephan revealed that her father was on the board of a company that was forced to sell to Helmut Horten and published an affidavit that Horten threatened the men who owned her father’s business with deportation to concentration camps if they resisted.

“My father rebelled against Horten from the very beginning because he knew that he had already forced several Jewish owners of department stores in Germany to sell their department stores for ridiculous sums,” said Stephan. “He immediately dismissed my father. Horten made sure that my father was imprisoned several times and finally was expelled from the Netherlands.”

The Times report went on to say “A historian hired by Heidi Horten to investigate her husband’s wealth said he has research that demonstrates Helmut Horten never finalised the purchase of Stephan's father's company. He said the affidavit was not ‘supported by records of that era.’”

The collection, which includes the 90-carat Briolette of India diamond which is valued at $7.8 million, has an estimated $150 million value and surpasses that of Elizabeth Taylor's jewellery collection, which sold for $137 million in 2011.

Fitness First owner Dave Whelan plans rent-cutting restructure
Retail and wellbeing tycoon Dave Whelan is embarking on a restructuring plan for the Fitness First health clubs chain, which could involve site closures and significant rent cuts.

The 86-year-old former footballer best-known as the one-time owner of Wigan Athletic Football Club, is forging ahead with plans that could see up to 25% of Fitness First’s 45 UK clubs earmarked for closure if the properties’ landlords don’t accept rent reductions requests up to as much as 90%.

According to Sky News, “recently filed accounts for Fitness First Clubs revealed that the company lost more than £10 million in the year to 31 March, 2021, although its performance during that period was hammered by the pandemic.

“Filings show that earlier this month, Teneo Financial Advisory was appointed administrator to Fitness First (Curzons) Limited, a company affiliated to the wider group.”

Whelan, who founded JJB Sports, one of Britain's biggest high-street sporting goods retailers, acquired a large stake in Fitness First’s UK operations in 2016 as “part of a separate restructuring of the multinational gyms operator”, saving the chain after dozens of clubs shut down following a “company voluntary arrangement” in 2013.

The current Fitness First restructure is believed to have come about after the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, soaring energy costs and the rise of budget health and fitness competitors such as The Gym chain.

Jack Ma takes up professorship position at Tokyo university
Months after ceding control of his Chinese fintech giant Ant Group, as part of a company-wide restructure, reclusive billionaire businessman Jack Ma has taken up a new position as visiting professor at a new Tokyo college.

Having spent a significant time out of the public spotlight after Chinese authorities cracked down on tech entrepreneurs in late 2020, the Alibaba Group founder has agreed to an initial professorship until the end of October 2023 with the option to renew the contract on an annual basis.

The college was founded in 2019 to “act as a point of interaction between the University of Tokyo and overseas researchers as well as research institutions”.

According to India Today Ma “will be teaching students in various areas such as advising on important research themes and lectures on management as well as business start-ups.”

“The latest move of Ma is one of his rare public commitments that he has made outside China,” reported The Financial Times. “The billionaire disappeared from China in late 2021 and he was later spotted in countries such as Australia, Japan, and Thailand.”

“Ma’s return to China was hugely symbolic. He is a representative of entrepreneurial confidence in the country,” said Brian A Wong, a former Alibaba executive and author of The Tao Of Alibaba, who also asserted that the return of Ma suggests “Alibaba is refreshing.”

“Jack is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the company after his retirement, but his views and opinions still carry weight and have influence behind the scenes.”

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