The jet-plane shuffle continues at Williams Sonoma

January 10, 2011

Most people think of Williams-Sonoma (WSM) as a purveyor of gizmos and furnishings for the kitchen and home. Here at footnoted, we also see it as a busy part-time broker of executive aircraft. This time, they’re planning to buy the former boss’s Bombardier Global 5000, a corporate jet that Bombardier describes as a “powerful and luxurious aircraft [that] provides unequalled comfort, at unmatched speeds and over unsurpassed distances…”

Williams-Sonoma, of course, is the company that we footnoted in 2008 for collecting $46.8 million from selling its Bombardier Global Express, a gain of some $16 million on the original purchase price.

This time, however, the plane is owned by WHL Management LLC, a company that in turn was owned by W. Howard Lester, the former chairman and CEO of Williams-Sonoma. Lester retired in May and passed away in November at age 75. (Williams-Sonoma has an online tribute to him.)

In the run-up to Lester’s retirement, the company inked a retirement and consulting agreement with him last January that guaranteed Williams-Sonoma an option to buy the jet for $32 million on May 16 of this year. (We wrote about his retirement deal here, and his successor’s pay-package here.) The actual lease agreement between Williams-Sonoma and Lester’s company doesn’t seem to have been amended to reflect the change until May, in an 8-K filed June 1.

As required by that agreement, the company notified WHL Management on January 3 that it does indeed intend “to exercise the option to purchase the aircraft at the end of the lease term, on May 16, 2011.”

But don’t count on that being the end of the Williams-Sonoma jet jockeying: Plenty can change between now and mid-May. The company even adds:

“However, on or prior to the end of the lease term, the Company expects to enter into an agreement to lease the aircraft from a third party on terms no less favorable than those in the current lease.”

None of this has been a small endeavor, mind you. In hashing out the May amendments, the company and Lester each were “independently and separately advised by aviation counsel,” and Williams-Sonoma’s board separately “retained and was advised by an independent aviation consultant.”

Nor is the Bombardier any slouch of a jet, though we’re told by aviation industry insiders that it’s not exactly lavish either. Here’s a PDF brochure for a 2009 “pre-owned” Global 5000 listed for sale on Bombardier’s website. The one Williams-Sonoma has been using, according to a schedule included with that June 8-K, boasts a laundry-list of features, including “Standby Analog Telephone Jack and Loose Equipment Handset (in Cockpit),” six monitors of various sizes, floor-mat heaters for the entrance area, six “Recliner Type Legrest, Single Seat,” eight flexible reading lights, two wide single seats, a manual-fill espresso maker, a “three place divan,” and even “Addition Fwd Cabin Windows (in Fwd Lavatory)…”

Considering that Williams-Sonoma valued Lester’s personal use of the company’s aircraft at $463,249, we’re betting the jet will get plenty of use no matter who winds up with it. Sadly, we’re not sure just how much benefit Williams-Sonoma shareholders reap in the process.

Image source: Bombardier website & brochure

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