Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley would lie under tables to take a nap at meetings he found boring, a businessman suing the tycoon has told a judge.
Investment banker Jeffrey Blue also described, in his evidence to the High Court, what he described as a “pub lock-in” management sessions fuelled by drinks, kebabs and fish and chips.
One such session saw Mr Ashley engage in a drinking competition which ended with him vomiting into a fireplace, the court was told.
Mr Blue, who said he was working for Merrill Lynch when he first met the businessman in 2006, said Mr Ashley was “like no other client that anyone at Merrill Lynch had ever come across”.
The investment banker is suing the sportswear tycoon and Newcastle United owner over a claim he did not stick to a commercial agreement. Mr Ashley disputes the claim.
It centres on an alleged conversation in a London pub, the Horse & Groom, in 2013, when Mr Blue says the businessman promised to pay him £15m if he used his expertise to increase Sports Direct’s share price to £8 a share. Mr Blue says Mr Ashley paid only £1m.
Image: Jeffrey Blue is suing Mr Ashley
Jeffrey Chapman QC, representing the banker, said in a written outline of his case: “Mr Ashley’s business practices fly in the face of business orthodoxy.
“Mr Blue refers to Mr Ashley lying underneath tables in meetings he found boring to ‘take a nap’, playing a game of spoof to resolve who ought to pay Merrill Lynch’s legal fees… (totalling £750,000) and lavishly entertaining Sports Direct’s non-executive directors.
“Mr Ashley is not an ordinary businessman, does not conduct business in an orthodox way or in business-like environments.”
In a witness statement, Mr Blue said he had been a frequent visitor to Sports Direct’s head office in Derbyshire and had attended senior management meetings in the Green Dragon pub in Alfreton.
He said: “These meetings were like no other senior management meeting I had ever attended in all my years of investment banking experience.
“It was effectively a ‘pub lock-in’ with alcohol continuing to be served well beyond closing hours and fish and chips being provided throughout the evening.”
Mr Blue said on one occasion Mr Ashley had challenged an analyst on the banker’s team, Pawel Pawlowski, to a drinking competition including lager and vodka chasers.
“After approximately 12 pints and chasers Pawel apologised profusely and had to excuse himself.
“Mr Ashley then vomited into the fireplace located in the centre of the bar, to huge applause from his senior management team.”
Mr Blue said other meetings took place at the bar of a hotel in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.
He added: “I believe that the reason why Mr Ashley made unlimited quantities of alcohol available at these senior management meetings was a deliberate strategy to encourage his senior managers to speak ‘more freely’ than might otherwise be the case in a more formal meeting environment.”
David Cavender QC, for Mr Ashley, told the judge that Mr Blue’s claim was an “opportunistic try-on”.
He said Mr Blue’s case was that Mr Ashley had made an agreement “over a heavy drinking session at a pub” and that the banker’s claim was “remarkable”.
Mr Ashley has been attending the hearing but is not expected to give evidence until later in the week.