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Mike Ashley lawsuit unveils Sports Direct drinking culture – and tales of vomiting in a fireplace

In most cases verbal agreements are deemed legally binding. But is it still considered valid after a two hour drinking session? It’s something Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley is about to find out.
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At the Horse & Groom pub in 2013, investment banker Jeff Blue and Mike Ashley allegedly entered into an agreement. The Sports Direct boss promised to pay Blue £15m if he could double the company’s share price from £4m to £8m within three years.

But after making good on his promise, Blue only received £1m – a “discretionary bonus” according to the Telegraph.

A lawsuit has now been filed by Mishcon de Reya, Blue’s legal company of choice, intending to claim the other £14m. And while many ponder how valid an agreement made over a two hour drinking session can be, Blue suggested in his statement that Ashley gave voice to the deal before alcohol got in the way. That and, apparently, he just didn’t do business the normal way.

Indeed, Blue, who claimed to have visited Sports Direct’s management team quite frequently, said: “Mike Ashley often had business discussions and handled agreements orally and informally while consuming alcohol.”

He would conduct business in a London casino over a game of “spoof” that would determine who paid their investment bank’s fees and would hold senior management discussions at a nearby pub, said to go on for lengthy periods of time.

“On one such evening, Ashley was claimed to have challenged a young Polish analyst in my team, Pawel Pawlowski, to a drinking competition,” Blue claimed. “Ashley and Pawlowski 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 12 pints and chasers Pawlowski apologised profusely and had to excuse himself. Ashley then vomited into the fireplace located in the centre of the bar, to huge applause from his senior management team.”

That’s not the only thing Blue had to say about Ashley’s way of doing business.

“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’.”

Of course, Ashley’s lawyers have deemed the claim an “opportunistic try-on”, suggesting the deal was proposed after consuming alcohol, and thus wasn’t legally binding.

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Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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