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Meet Dov Charney’s money man

July 2, 2014, 8:20 PM UTC
American Apparel store
Neil Harris—Getty Images
Photograph by Andrew Burton — Getty Images

Soo Kim, the hedge fund manager backing Dov Charney’s bid to regain control of American Apparel, had hoped to use his money to save Playland.

Last year, Kim’s hedge fund, Standard General—which jumped into the American Apparel (APP) fight late last week when it bought 10% of the retailer’s shares—submitted a proposal to save the aging and money-losing amusement park in Rye, New York. Kim, who grew up in New York City, had gone there often when he was a kid. Standard General’s plan was to expand Playland, by adding three new large rides and a waterpark. The hedge fund’s PowerPoint presentation said that Standard General would “invest all the necessary resources to return Playland to its status as the crown jewel of Westchester County family entertainment.”

Kim didn’t win the bid. Instead, Westchester officials went with a plan that would scale down the park, improve its beachfront, and turn the remaining area into open space and an ecological preserve. Some residents are still fighting that plan. Standard General spent $400,000 on its losing bid.

Most people think hedge funds have specific investment strategies, say merger arbitrage or buying or betting against individual stocks. I have written recently about how this traditional view of what a hedge fund is may be way off. But another way to look at a hedge fund is that it’s just a bunch of money that is trying to become more. Even Kim’s deal with Charney isn’t really a bet on American Apparel, which has struggled for the past few years.

Instead, Standard General’s American Apparel investment is essentially a loan to former CEO Charney, who was recently ousted by the board. Charney is trying to get his job back.

Last week, Standard General spent roughly $19.6 million to buy 10% of the outstanding shares of American Apparel. But it didn’t hold onto the stock. Standard General lent Charney $15 million, which he used to buy the shares that the hedge fund bought. It is charging Charney a 10% annual interest rate for the loan, with the right to take back the shares if Charney doesn’t pay. The hedge fund also got a warrant to buy back the shares, plus another nearly 5 million shares that Charney already owned, at last week’s stock price. So Standard will benefit if American Apparel’s stock goes up, if Charney rejoins the company or not.

It’s unclear if the deal will trip up American Apparel’s recently instituted poison pill plan.

Kim, 39, founded Standard General in 2007 with Nicholas Singer, a former rising star at Goldman Sachs. Kim got his start as a prop trader at Bankers Trust. He left there for hedge fund Och-Ziff, where he met Singer. Early last year, Singer left Standard General, and Kim took over as CEO. Institutional Investor included Kim on its list of rising hedge fund stars last year.

Kim does not appear to be a fan of diversification. According to a filing with the SEC, the fund owns shares of just four public companies. And over 90% of those assets were in just one company, Media General (MEG), which owns 30 television stations. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) owns a small stake in Media General.

Standard General also held a stake in RadioShack (RSH), the struggling electronic retailer that has recently been closing stores.

Getting involved with American Apparel seems like another high-risk move. Shares of the retailer recently traded for $0.83 and are down 32% this year. Charney has until 2019 to pay back Standard General’s loan. American Apparel could be out of business long before then, which would make Standard General’s collateral worthless. The retailer has lost nearly $300 million over the past four years. Standard General did not return a request for comment for this story.

In the meantime, investors seem to want Charney out. Shares of the retailer have traded up recently. But the bump could have to do with Standard General’s purchases.

On top of that, Standard General has the added annoyance that it appears to have become Charney’s chief public backer. But if you think a hedge fund is just a bunch of money, then perhaps you don’t care whether that cash goes toward making sure that the next generation has access to the same childhood memories that you formed, or if it goes toward helping a guy dogged by claims of sexual harassment regain his empire. It’s just money, after all.