Ron Sargent knows his way around the boardroom. But his business acumen is about to be tested in a different venue: a courtroom.
The chief executive at office supplier Staples Inc. is expected to testify in a Washington court within the next week, and the deal of his lifetime is on the line.
Sargent is scheduled to argue that Staples’ acquisition of Office Depot should be allowed to proceed, despite fierce resistance from the Federal Trade Commission. The agency wants a judge to block the deal: The merger, the FTC argues, would severely hurt big businesses that depend on competition between the nation’s two biggest office suppliers to get the best prices for pens, paper, and other items.
A spokesman for Framingham-based Staples won’t disclose what Sargent plans to say, and it’s possible both sides might reach a settlement before it is Sargent’s turn to speak.
But Staples has already revealed plenty of clues in its opening arguments. The FTC “gerrymandered” the market in question, Staples argues, to best fit the agency’s claims. The company points to growing competition from challengers such as Amazon and Grainger, along with Brockton-based W.B. Mason, the nation’s third-largest office supplier.
The FTC brought in W.B. Mason CEO Leo Meehan on Wednesday to testify against the merger of his two rivals.
Staples, in its argument, pointed to a statement Meehan made in a deposition in the case, when asked if there’s anything W.B. Mason does better than Staples. The answer? Meehan said: “Everything.” — JON CHESTO
Winthrop Square Garage draws a crowd
Boston officials are kicking off one of the biggest development derbies this city has seen in years. And the starting line is a crowded place.
Dozens of would-be builders filled a City Hall conference room Wednesday for a pre-bid conference on the Winthrop Square Garage, which the Boston Redevelopment Authority will sell to a developer later this year.
It’s a big opportunity. City officials want an “iconic tower” on the spot in the heart of downtown. And sprinkled through the crowd were some big names: Millennium Partners principal Anthony Pangaro; architect David Hacin, who’s working with Accordia Partners; development veteran Justin Krebs, who’s spearheading entrepreneur Steve Belkin’s bid to win the project. Other development heavyweights from Tom O’Brien to James Keefe sent representatives.
But no one said much. Aside from a few perfunctory questions from the crowd, BRA real estate chief Ed O’Donnell did all the talking, explaining the process by which the agency will choose a developer over the next two months. A meeting scheduled to last two hours was over in 15 minutes. It’s no surprise, O’Donnell said. Most in the crowd were just there to see who else showed up.
“At a thing like this, folks tend to hold their cards pretty close to the vest,” he said. They’ll have to play them soon enough. Proposals for what developers would do on the garage site are due April 21. — TIM LOGAN
‘Brigham rates’ a hot topic for Steward exec
The executives at Steward Health Care System threw millions of dollars at Quincy Medical Center, hoping to keep the struggling hospital afloat. But that didn’t save Quincy from closing suddenly at the end of 2014.
What might have helped? Higher payments from insurers, said Ralph de la Torre, the heart surgeon who serves as chief executive of Steward. Specifically: “Brigham rates.”
“In its last year of operation, Quincy lost $40 million,” de la Torre said. “If it had Brigham rates, it would have had a $10 million profit.”
Brigham and Women’s Hospital is among the big academic medical centers in Boston routinely paid higher rates than community hospitals for delivering similar care. Payment disparities have been an ongoing issue of the Massachusetts health care market. De la Torre spoke at a Health Policy Commission forum Tuesday along with Normand Deschene of Lowell General Hospital, Spiros Hatiras of Holyoke Medical Center, Steve Walsh of the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals, and Lynn Nicholas of the Massachusetts Hospital Association.
— PRIYANKA DAYAL MCCLUSKEY
Executives sound off on N.C.
A letter signed by 90 top executives urging North Carolina’s governor to overturn a new anti-gay rights measure there includes a number of Boston-area venture capitalists and business leaders.
The signers are a who’s-who of corporate America, from Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Apple’s Tim Cook.
There are also some well-known venture capitalists in the mix, including Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital in Boston, who backed Twitter and Tumblr. Two general partners of Matrix Partners, Stan Reiss in Cambridge and Jared Fliesler, also signed. So did George A. Scangos, chief executive of biotech giant Biogen.
The letter, addressed to Governor Pat McCrory, says the new law, restricting the rights of LGBT workers and students, is “bad for our employees and bad for business.” The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, plans to deliver the letter Thursday. — BETH HEALY