Lawrence Stroll: the petrolhead who saved Aston Martin

Lawrence Stroll made his fortune in fashion and has a passion for Ferraris and motorsport. When he saw the greatest luxury car brand in the world struggling, he swooped in.

The latest James Bond movie has been put on hold due to government restrictions related to Covid-19 (see page 40). Not so 007’s prize carmaker, Aston Martin, says The Sunday Times. The veteran British sportscar marque has spent the year being “shaken and stirred” by a new boss – the Canadian “petrolhead”, Lawrence Stroll.

Stroll, 61, has a large private collection of Ferraris and is a big mover in Formula One: in 2018, he led the buyout of the Force India team, renaming it Racing Point. Still, he wasn’t an obvious candidate to take the wheel at Aston, having made his name, and $2.6bn fortune, in fashion – notably as a driving force behind the Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors brands. Bond, of course, always offered “a blend of sartorial refinement and expensive sports cars”, says The Guardian. Aston’s shareholders are hoping Stroll can make the same combination work at the carmaker.

An archetypal billionaire

There’s certainly work to be done under the bonnet. Since it was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, “Aston has swallowed multiple fortunes and belched for more”. It has gone bust seven times and an “eighth was starting to look like a distinct possibility”, says The Sunday Times. Floated on the stockmarket two years ago by its Italian and Kuwaiti owners, pumped-up investors bought into the carmaker’s “second century plan”. But since then an extraordinary 97% of Aston’s market value has gone up in smoke.

Stroll enjoys “an almost archetypal billionaire’s lifestyle”, says The Guardian. Based in Geneva, he has homes in London, Quebec and Mustique. Last year, he hosted a Great Gatsby-themed 60th birthday party in a villa on Capri – appearing, as Tatler noted, in an all-white suit. Growing up in Montreal, Stroll learned the business of luxury young. His father, the Quebec businessman Leo Strulovitch, brought the Pierre Cardin and Polo Ralph Lauren brands to Canada. At eight, Stroll was sweeping floors and packing boxes. At 17, his father handed him the Pierre Cardin licence for Canada and challenged him to grow the brand. By his early 20s, he was steaming into Europe with Ralph Lauren.

But Stroll made his real cash building up and selling two less established brands, says Fortune. In 1989, he teamed up with Silas Chou, a Hong Kong businessman, to buy Tommy Hilfiger, taking the company public in 1992 and later selling it to private equity. They followed that up by taking a £100m majority stake in Michael Kors in 2003, building up its leather-tote bag business and eventually listing it in 2011.

Stroll didn’t originally intend to buy into Aston, says The Sunday Times: at first, he was keener on getting it to work with his F1 team, which includes his 21-year-old racing-driver son, Lance. But when Aston made an emergency £536m cash-call in January, he was persuaded to jump in as the lead investor of a consortium including JCB owner Lord (Anthony) Bamford, pumping in £182m. Following a recent fundraising, in which Aston issued more than $1bn worth of bonds at a rate of 10.5%, he claims the company is “funded forever”.

The cardinal rule

Stroll’s broad-brush critique is that the previous management “over-promised and under-delivered”. Worse, they broke a cardinal rule of upmarket branding, pumping too many products into a struggling market. “The most important thing in luxury – it doesn’t matter if you are making handbags or automobiles – is you have to align demand with supply,” he says. “Actually, there always needs to be one less than the demand. It’s creating a pent-up demand to want the product.”

Stroll knows as much as a buyer himself, says Forbes: in 2013, he spent $27.5m on a vintage Ferrari. But he has now nailed his colours to a different mast. Aston, he told The Sunday Times, “is the greatest brand in the world for luxury automotive” – regardless of what a certain rival in the Italian town of Maranello might say.

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