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Next Time A Drunk Client Promises You A Huge Bonus At A Bar, Get It In Writing On A Cocktail Napkin

This is a lesson Merrill Lynch’s Jeffrey Blue has learned the expensive way.
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The guy on the left is not legally responsible for anything he says at this point in the night. By Johnvedwards (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The guy on the left is not legally responsible for anything he says at this point in the night. By Johnvedwards (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mike Ashley, the founder of a British sporting-goods retailer, doesn’t necessarily sound like a great guy or a great boss. His company isn’t exactly known as a great place to work. Nor is it a particularly great thing to invest in, with earnings in a freefall and shares down by half over the last three-plus years. And that’s before we get into the extracurriculars.

Sports Direct's Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United football club, gave evidence during the case which was littered with lurid tales of boozy business meetings….

Blue, in his evidence, said that at another meeting at a pub close to Sports Direct's Shirebrook headquarters in central England, Ashley had challenged a financial analyst to a drinking competition and ended up vomiting into a fireplace.

Now, if in the process of downing a half-dozen beers per hour, but before using them and the rest of the contents of his stomach to extinguish a fire, this person told you he’d give you FIFTEEN MILLION POUNDS if you figured out how to double his share price and thensome. Would you believe him? Merrill Lynch’s Jeffrey Blue did. This is what a judge had to say about it.

"No reasonable person present in the Horse & Groom... would have thought that the offer to pay Blue 15 million pounds was serious and was intended to create a contract," he said….

"The fact that Blue has since convinced himself that the offer was a serious one, and that a legally binding agreement was made, shows only that the human capacity for wishful thinking knows few bounds," Leggatt said in his ruling.

Which seems fair: Ashley may be an abusive lout, but how many things you’ve promised after several gallons more Yuengling or dozens of fingers more Scotch than advisable would you like to be held responsible for? How many tattoos or unfortunate haircuts or emergency visits to the gastroenterologist or proctologist would you have endured if everything said across a bar became a legally enforceable contract?

Ex-Merrill Banker Loses $20 Million Bonus Claim Against Sports Direct’s Ashley [NYT]


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