In his three-part series, Build or Buy? Equiteq’s Adam Blatchford discusses the pillars for successful growth through acquisition. In part one Adam addressed the strategic advantages acquisitions can offer.
Here in part two, he looks at the ways a professional service firm can fund an acquisition.
Generally, M&A news tends to give the impression that acquisition is an exercise exclusive to huge corporations with big cash balances. In the last year the consulting sector has seen a number of multi-billion dollar deals, including Blackstone spending $4.8 billion for Aon’s HR Outsourcing business to create Alight Solutions, and $2.6 billion for British engineering consultancy Atkins from SNC-Lavalin.
This perception fails to scratch the surface of acquisitions and hides the real picture. Of more than 2,500 consulting deals that took place in 2017, the mean deal size was a more reasonable $69 million. The median deal was even lower at $12 million, meaning half of all deals took place below this threshold. These numbers are far more attainable for a ‘regular’ growth-stage business and demonstrate that an acquisition is more achievable than one might have initially thought.
Blackstone acquires Aon’s human resources outsourcing business
The Blackstone Group agreed to pay up to $4.8bn to acquire Aon’s human resources outsourcing business. The Aon unit processes work benefits for 15% of the US population and is a provider for cloud-based human resources management systems. Blackstone is believed to have prevailed over buyout firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice in an auction for the business.
Aon acquired the business in 2010 as part of its $4.9bn acquisition of Hewitt Associates. The transaction with Blackstone is expected to enable Aon to focus on growth areas like cybersecurity and health insurance, while using part of the proceeds to buy back shares.
The deal will be structured whereby Aon receives $4.3bn in cash, plus up to another $500m in earn-out.
The New Year commenced with some notable deal activity and M&A news across all five of the consulting segments that we track. The share prices of many listed consultants that form part of our Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index also rose on the back of strong market sentiment and earnings announcements.
WS Atkins and CH2M $4bn merger talks
The Times reported that British engineering and design consulting firm, WS Atkins Plc (ATKW.L) and US-based CH2M are in merger talks. Atkins had said last year that plans by the new U.S. administration and U.K. government to increase infrastructure spending would benefit the company. Atkins had been using M&A to selectively increase its geographic footprint and capabilities, in a segment that is considered to be consolidating as players look to reduce overheads and increase global market share.