Billionaire Lansdown Vows to Shield His Virus-Hit Businesses

(Bloomberg) --

Stephen Lansdown was upbeat about his family office’s investments at the start of the month.

His English soccer team, Bristol City, was vying for promotion to the Premier League. His luxury safari business in Botswana had a bulging order book and the course of his Guernsey golf club was looking to reopen as the weather warmed up.

Now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the co-founder of financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown Plc is counting the costs of keeping many of his holdings in Pula Ltd. afloat.

“Any resource I have will be applied to those businesses I’ve invested in,” Lansdown, 67, said in a telephone interview from Guernsey. “The number one priority is establishing what that might require before doing anything else.”

The rapid spread of the coronavirus over the past few weeks has curbed global travel, shelved sporting events and kept large portions of the population at home. Few industries or businesses are unaffected, and many fall squarely into Pula’s orbit.

“We were looking very good in all the areas, and now we’re looking at nothing,” Lansdown said. Assessing the pandemic’s impact “has really been the order of the day for the past couple of weeks, looking at how we can keep it all going until the world returns to some form of normality.”

Lansdown founded Hargreaves Lansdown with Peter Hargreaves in 1981, and together they built the online investment platform into one of the U.K.’s largest.

He set up Pula after stepping down as chief executive officer of Hargreaves Lansdown in 2010. That year, he left the U.K. for Guernsey, the British crown dependency that doesn’t apply levies on capital gains. Over the past five years he’s sold shares worth more than $350 million in Hargreaves Lansdown, but still owns a $740 million stake in the company.

His family office also owns a stake in a local financial services firm, a team in the top tier of English rugby and a private jet business that has benefited from commercial airlines grounding planes amid the virus crisis.

“I think it’s going to slow down now while the virus is sorted out,” Lansdown said of the jet activity.

In addition to Hargreaves Lansdown, he’s a founder of sustainability-focused private equity firm Earth Capital Holdings, which has offices in Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and New York.

Lansdown has closed his safari lodges in Botswana and retained staff. Players and employees at Bristol Bears rugby club are taking a pay cut, while his golf club in Guernsey -- part of the four-star La Grande Mare Hotel -- is closed.

Hargreaves sold 550 million pounds ($672.5 million) of shares in the firm at the start of February, weeks before markets plummeted, and said earlier this month he was looking to reinvest in stock markets.

Lansdown said he’s in no rush to take advantage of the stock market turmoil stemming from a virus that has now infected more than 500,000 people worldwide, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Some of my cash “will find its way back to the market, but I’m not looking to swoop,” he said. “It’s a question of being calculated.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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