On April 27, 2007, Victor Dubinski, CEO of Blaine Kitchenware, Inc. (BKI), sat in his office reflecting on a meeting he had had with an investment banker earlier in the week. The banker, whom Dubinski had known for years, asked for the meeting after a group of private equity investors made discreet inquiries about a possible acquisition of Blaine. Although Blaine was a public company, a majority of its shares were controlled by family members descended from the firm’s founders together with various family trusts. Family interests were strongly represented on the board of directors as well. Dubinski knew the family had no current interest in selling—on the contrary, Blaine was interested in acquiring other companies in the kitchen appliances space—so this overture, like a few others before it, would be politely rebuffed. Nevertheless, Dubinski was struck by the banker’s assertion that a private equity buyer could “unlock” value inherent in Blaine’s strong operations and balance sheet. Using cash on Blaine’s balance sheet and new borrowings, a private equity firm could purchase all of Blaine’s outstanding shares at a price higher than $16.25 per share, its current stock price. It would then repay the debt over time using the company’s future earnings. When the banker pointed out that BKI itself could do the same thing—borrow money to buy back its own shares—Dubinski had asked, “But why would we do that?” The banker’s response was blunt: “Because you’re over-liquid and under-levered. Your shareholders are paying a price for that.” In the days since the meeting, Dubinski’s thoughts kept returning to a share repurchase. How many shares could be bought? At what price? Would it sap Blaine’s financial strength? Or prevent it from making future acquisitions?
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