April 11, 2018
Elliott Advisors is scheduled to complete its acquisition of Waterstones by the end of the month
by Simon Reichley
An anonymous source, speaking with Lisa Campbell at The Bookseller, has confirmed that Elliott Advisors will complete their acquisition of Waterstones by the end of this month. The sale would bring to a close months of speculation regarding the future ownership of the UK’s most prominent book retail chain, and should pave the way for a round of pay raises to senior staff members that has been on hold since Alexander Mamut—the Russian oligarch who bought Waterstones in 2011 and installed James Daunt as managing director—put the company up for sale last October.
According to Campbell’s sources at Waterstones, while entry-level employees received a sizeable pay increase last year as a result of new minimum wage legislation in the UK, Senior, Lead, and Expert booksellers have not seen a corresponding raise. As one anonymous source put it, “We’re in a position where senior booksellers with years of experience are now being paid the same as booksellers who started just before Christmas as temps. It feels like our skills, knowledge and expertise count for nothing.”
Daunt, in a statement to Campbell, assured booksellers that raises were coming, saying, “I have been unequivocal in stating that a pay rise for Senior, Lead and Expert booksellers will be given. It does require approval but I am confident this will be in plenty of time for the April payroll. It will not have to wait for the new owners.”
As we’ve mentioned before, Elliott Advisors’ Paul Singer is a real piece of work, and his fund is notorious for its hyper-aggressive, bullying tactics. It’s also famous for taking an active role in transforming the firms it acquires. While there’s no indication that the raise Daunt has promised won’t come to pass, it seems unlikely that Waterstones will become a more labor-friendly shop under Singer’s watch.
The situation at Waterstones merits close attention in the coming months and years. While Daunt has clearly indicated his desire to stay on as director after the sale, the decision won’t really be in his hands, and much will depend on what Singer has in mind for his newest acquisition.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.