Potential Williams Lea buyer named

The owner of Fort Dearborn and Oberthur Technologies has emerged as the likely buyer for Williams Lea.

Global private equity giant Advent International, which has invested some $35bn (£27.2bn) in more than 325 businesses worldwide, has been tipped to take over the business.

In February PrintWeek revealed that Williams Lea owner Deutsche Post DHL was believed to be putting the business process outsourcing and marketing services group up for sale.

In the intervening months talk about the likely impending sale has escalated.

Yesterday’s Sunday Times reported that Advent could pay between £350m-£400m for the business. It also named former chief executive Tim Griffiths as potentially being involved in the bid.

PrintWeek has attempted to contact Griffiths since his possible involvement emerged earlier in the summer, but he has not responded to our requests for comment. A source said that Griffiths was described as being “in deep cover” with a private equity bidder.

Advent International declined to comment on the speculation.

Platinum Equity, which has a track record working with corporate sellers “shedding non-core assets” has also been mooted as a potential buyer, but Advent is believed to be in pole position.

PrintWeek has also learned that headhunters at executive search specialist Skillcapital have apparently been tasked with putting together a new management team for the business. Skillcapital works exclusively with the private equity industry.

“I believe Advent are the front runners and they are trying to recruit a new team to replace what’s left of the existing management,” said an informed source.

There is also speculation that Advent could look at an even bigger play, by putting the Williams Lea Tag business together with another major UK player.

Advent’s investments span a broad range of sectors, including business and financial services; healthcare; industrial; retail, media and leisure; and technology, media and telecoms. The firm owns a number of specialist outsourcing businesses around the world.

The firm states on its website: “Depending on the fund we’re deploying, we can invest anywhere from $50m to $1bn of equity in companies with enterprise values of $50m to $3.5bn and above.”

Deutsche Post paid €370m, £253m at the time, when it acquired a majority 75% stake in Williams Lea in 2006. Williams Lea went on to acquire Tag Worldwide in 2011, which propelled sales towards the £1bn mark.  

Note: This article has been amended, because Advent International is the former owner, rather than the current owner of Thomson Directories. 


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