Anta’s masterstrokes – acquiring Amer Sports, dodging controversy: Part 1

    After being taken private by Anta, Amer Sports saw its portfolio brands go from strength to strength in the Greater China region, with Arc’teryx and Salomon leading the way.
    Amer Sports’ full-year revenue for 2023 surged by 23% to $4.368 billion, with a notable 61% growth in Greater China. Image: Shutterstock
      Published   in Retail

    Editor’s note: This is the first story in a two-part deep dive into Anta Sports. Stay tuned for the next piece.

    In 2019, leading a consortium that included Tencent, investment firm FountainVest, and Lululemon co-founder Chip Wilson, Fujian-based Chinese sportswear giant Anta Sports took Finland-based Amer Sports private for $5.2 billion.

    Known for its portfolio of outdoor sports and performance brands like Arc’teryx, Salomon, and Wilson, Amer Sports proved to be an irresistible target for established Chinese conglomerate Anta Sports to diversify its brand portfolio and penetrate high-end sportswear markets.

    Moreover, the move indicated Anta’s broader ambition for global expansion, increasing the retail footprint of under-represented Amer Sports portfolio brands in Asia, particularly in mainland China.

    Just five years later, Amer Sports went back to the public markets with a US IPO that raised $1.37 billion — slightly missing its ambitious target range — and achieved a valuation of around $6.3 billion based on the company’s 484 million outstanding shares.

    This maneuver reflected cautious optimism in the broader market, with Amer’s modest debut at $13.40 per share signaling a nuanced recovery in the IPO landscape. Amer’s stock rose 22 percent to $16.35 in the four weeks between the listing on February 1 and the writing of this article.

    As Amer said in a pre-IPO company filing, “Our retail know-how, including our ability to deliver a high-end, luxury-oriented in-store presentation, and execution capabilities have been upgraded significantly.”

    “We believe our global capabilities and presence, especially within Greater China, positions us well to drive growth in the athletic apparel and athletic footwear markets globally,” it said.

    Since the Anta-led effort in 2019, Amer Sports has experienced success with its portfolio brands in the Greater China region, with Arc’teryx and Salomon leading the way.

    In the nine months to September 30, 2023, Amer Sports reported a striking 67.6 percent increase in revenue from the Greater China region, totaling $593 million, up from $353.8 million the previous year. Salomon’s revenue in Greater China hit $91.2 million between January and September 2023, a 63 percent YoY rise.

    Today, nearly half of the 138 Arc’teryx-owned retail stores globally are located in China, with the company’s expansion aligning with Amer Sports’ aim to connect with outdoor adventurers and luxury consumers in the region. Similarly, Salomon has expanded its presence in China, with 30 of its 114 international retail stores now located in the country.

    Amer Sports’ initiatives in China have led to substantial revenue growth along with a deeper understanding of the Chinese consumer market. The company nearly doubled its employee count in China from 450 in 2018 to 800 by September 2023.

    Avoiding backlash#

    Perhaps Anta’s biggest achievement with its investment in Amer, and the portfolio brands that came with it, is largely avoiding the geopolitical and sometimes ethical backlash often seen after Chinese companies acquire Western brands, like in the case of Fosun International Ltd.’s takeover of fashion brand Lanvin Group.

    Anta’s caution in keeping Amer at arm’s length has been consistent. Amer Sports was assured operational independence with its own board of directors, ensuring its strategic and operational decisions remained focused on its growth and brand integrity.

    Image: Bloomberg
    Image: Bloomberg

    The acquisition offer included a substantial premium over Amer Sports’ market price, making it attractive to shareholders and reducing potential opposition. Further, the consortium committed to investing in Amer Sports’ growth, particularly in expanding its presence in the Chinese market, leveraging Anta Sports’ extensive distribution network and resources.

    This strategic focus on long-term growth rather than short-term gains, coupled with plans to retain Amer Sports’ corporate head office in Helsinki and assurances that the acquisition would have a minimal immediate impact on operations, management, and employees, contributed to the positive reception of the deal among stakeholders and helped prevent controversy.

    By allowing Amer Sports to operate independently and retain most of its existing management, Anta ensured the autonomy and unique character of its portfolio brands. This has helped preserve brand appeal to consumers in the West and globally, effectively insulating them from a potential backlash associated with any China-centric decisions made by Anta management. (Such as their support for Xinjiang cotton in 2021, which set Anta at loggerheads against Amer Sports.)

    Anta has largely navigated the politically sensitive environment in which international Chinese firms find themselves today. The company’s dealings with Amer, which remains based in Finland and is predominantly managed by Westerners, shows an understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach to ethical governance is impractical. Anta’s largely successful avoidance of significant controversy can be attributed to its nuanced understanding of the global business landscape, where it has managed to balance its positions without alienating international audiences.

    In the context of escalating politicization in global business, including the sporting goods and apparel industry, Anta and Amer’s strategy demonstrates a cautious yet assertive navigation of the complex interplay between Chinese and Western corporate cultures.

    Anta’s strategic investment in Amer and the subsequent management of the potential backlash showcase how a relatively “light-touch” approach to international expansion and brand management can help grow the global footprint of brands while mitigating the risk of negative repercussions often faced by Chinese companies on the international stage.

    • Anta Sports’ effort to take Amer Sports private in 2019 for $5.2 billion allowed it to diversify its brand portfolio and aim for global expansion, especially targeting high-end sportswear markets and increasing Amer Sports brands’ presence in Asia.
    • Five years later, Amer Sports re-entered the public market with a U.S. IPO, raising $1.37 billion and indicating a cautious optimism in the IPO landscape with a 22 percent stock rise post-listing.
    • Amer Sports reported a 67.6 percent revenue increase from the Greater China region in nine months up to September 30, 2023, with nearly half of Arc’teryx’s global retail stores now in China, showcasing successful market penetration.
    • Brands should maintain operational independence and respect for the corporate culture of acquired entities to navigate geopolitical and ethical challenges successfully, ensuring long-term growth and brand integrity.
    • Anta’s nuanced approach to managing Amer Sports, including retaining its headquarters in Helsinki and assuring minimal operational impact, presents a model for Chinese companies on balancing global expansion with sensitivity to international perceptions.
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