The Knowledge Economy Global Buyers Report 2018/19

Strong demand for M&A in 2019 is driven by industry convergence with a desire among buyers to deepen industry and digital expertise

By Ramone Param, Director, Equiteq

  • Buyers expect to complete 5 acquisitions over the next 2 to 3 years
  • Private equity expect to acquire 75% more businesses than strategic buyers
  • The optimum turnover size for an acquisition rose 18% since 2016
  • Strong demand for artificial intelligence, data analytics and Internet of Things capabilities

The Knowledge Economy Global Buyers Report analyzes the findings of our fifth comprehensive independent survey of global strategic buyers and private equity investors acquiring businesses across the knowledge economy. The report provides exclusive insights into current M&A trends among buyers that acquire knowledge-intensive services businesses across five segments: management consulting, IT services, media agencies, engineering consulting and human resources.

The following summarizes the main trends discussed in more detail in our recently published Knowledge Economy Global Buyers Report.

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How to fund an acquisition

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.

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Equiteq’s Consulting Sector M&A Deals: Q4 2017

  • The BioTech Quality Group joins Assystem S.A.
  • ShiftIN Partners sold to Sia Partners
  • Livingbridge invests in TSA Management
  • Pathway to Your Potential completes strategic alliance with Mercer Australia

Last quarter proved to be a busy one for Equiteq and its clients with consulting deals closing around the world. The following recaps the sale and investment opportunities completed for clients in Q4 2017.


The BioTech Quality Group joins Assystem S.A.
Industry: Life sciences consulting Date: 1 December 2017 Geography: Central Europe

Equiteq facilitated the sale of Life sciences consulting client, The Biotech Quality Group (BQG), to international engineering group, Assystem S.A.

BQG specializes in performance management and regulatory compliance in Europe’s pharmaceutical and biotech industries, and has developed a range of bespoke methods and tools aimed at increasing the maturity and transforming the practices of the (bio)pharmaceutical industry.

The strategic acquisition of BQG significantly moves Assystem forward in the implementation of its Life sciences strategy of becoming a European leader in the areas of commissioning, certification, validation and regulatory compliance in the European pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

The deal is also indicative of the growing volume of life sciences M&A expected to take place in 2018. Recent reports by EY and law firm Baker McKenzie predict a significant increase in deals, with EY estimating 2018 total deal values exceeding $200 billion. According to EY’s report, 60 percent of life sciences executives surveyed in October 2017 plan to actively pursue M&A in the next 12 months, compared with 46 percent in April.

To read our case study on this deal, please click here.

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Global consulting M&A mixed in the second quarter, after a strong start to the year


By 
Ramone Param, Associate Director, Equiteq.

Equiteq’s quarterly market updates provide an indicative guide to current M&A market conditions in the consulting industry. However, it should be noted that we typically observe large variations between quarterly M&A volumes, which are not always reflective of longer term trends.

M&A activity was mixed in the second quarter after a strong start to the year. Overall global deal activity in the consulting sector fell by 12% quarter-on-quarter. Deal volumes fell by just 2% on the same quarter last year. The Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index rallied in the second quarter, achieving similar returns to the S&P 500.

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May 2017: Consulting M&A Update

By Ramone Param, Associate Director, Equiteq.

FIS sells majority stake in Capco to private equity

Clayton, Dubilier & Rice announced their acquisition of a 60% majority stake in Capco from FIS, a leader in financial services technology. Capco is the public brand for FIS’ management consulting business and specializes in business, digital and technology consulting services for the financial services industry. FIS acquired Capco for $292m in 2010 and will receive net cash proceeds of $477m from the sale, while retaining a 40% stake in the business.

New Mountain acquires OneDigital Health and Benefits

OneDigital, one of the top buyers that we identified in the HR space, announced that it has been acquired in an all-cash deal by private equity investor New Mountain Capital. New Mountain is acquiring a majority ownership in the business from Fidelity National Financial Ventures for a reported $560m. The investment will be aimed at providing strategic guidance and industry expertise, while helping drive OneDigital’s continued growth.

OneDigital is the United States’ largest provider of employee benefits services and offers employers a combination of strategic advisory, analytics, compliance support, HR capital management tools and comprehensive insurance offerings. The business serves 35,000 companies and manages c.$4 billion in premiums.

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Why succession planning is difficult – and how to get it right

By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq

One thing you need to assure future owners of when preparing for an exit is leadership capability and stability, as well as the continued positive effect of this on profitability and growth. Ownership succession generally involves management succession and because buyers buy people and great leadership, it is natural for them to want to assess the quality of bench strength, as well as the planning that has gone into ensuring the right people are in the right roles. Your management succession plans throughout the company are an aspect of good governance that you can expect to have evaluated in due diligence. And CEO succession in particular will be critical. It is a key responsibility of the Board and is central to good governance.

Why the lack of planning?

So why do so many companies not prepare well on this front? Often succession planning is mistakenly just not seen as a priority against the immediate operational requirements of getting the company to grow and become profitable.

Sometimes this lack of focus relates to the size of the business. Even in some mid-size organizations, without a big HR function, there are few resources to manage succession compared to the formal talent programs enjoyed by larger organizations. Yet being a smaller organization makes it even more important, as not only is the company very exposed to key talent leaving, but those firms can also have a shallow pool of talent to draw from and are unlikely to have the rotational assignment opportunities that allow people to build their skills and experience.

Sometimes firms feel that planning around succession can be distracting for the individuals and the company and create a political tone in senior management that isn’t helpful.

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April 2017: Consulting M&A Update

By Ramone Param, Associate Director, Market Intelligence & Buyer Coverage, Equiteq.

SNC-Lavalin acquires Atkins

SNC-Lavalin is acquiring British engineering consultancy Atkins for £2.1bn ($2.6bn). The offer represented a c.35% premium to the undisturbed closing price of Atkins prior to acquisitions talks were announced. As highlighted in our January market update, CH2M had been rumored to be in discussions with Atkins about a possible merger earlier in the year.

The acquisition would boost the Canadian engineering and construction firm’s European revenue as it emerges from a self-imposed freeze on acquisitions in 2015. The deal is expected to expand SNC’s projects outside the energy industry, while oil prices continue to remain significantly below their 2014 levels.

In combination with John Wood Group’s acquisition of Amec for £2.2bn ($2.7bn) last month, the deal represents a consolidation of the UK engineering consulting market, a trend that we anticipated globally in our latest Engineering M&A Report.

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Equiteq’s tenth annual review of the global consulting M&A market highlights that deal activity has reached a nine-year high

By Ramone Param, Associate Director, Market Intelligence & Buyer Coverage, Equiteq.

The Equiteq Global Consulting M&A report is the most comprehensive publicly available study of the knowledge-intensive services industry.

The review covers deal activity and equity market trends across fives consulting segments: Management Consulting, IT Services, Media Agencies, Engineering Services and Human Resources. Equity market trends are analyzed through the Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index, the only published share price index for the industry.

Strong deal activity

In 2016, the number of completed transactions in the consulting sector nudged up to reach a nine-year high. This was in spite of the restraining influences of slowing growth in global GDP, the UK’s vote to Brexit and the US Presidential election, which caused a slowdown in the preceding quarters. Activity from both strategic and financial buyers swiftly bounced back, and the year ended with conviction and momentum that has carried into 2017.

The top consulting segments for deal activity were the rapidly evolving Management Consulting, IT Services and Media Agency segments.

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March 2017: Consulting M&A Update

 By Ramone Param, Associate Director, Market Intelligence & Buyer Coverage, Equiteq.

Oracle reportedly exploring Accenture acquisition bid

According to a report by The Register, Oracle has hired consultants to conduct due diligence research on acquiring Accenture. Accenture is a major Oracle partner, while Oracle has a material services business which operates alongside its software offering. The combination would significantly enhance both companies position in their respective markets, creating a leading provider of end-to-end digital transformation products and services.

A deal with Accenture would follow Oracle’s recent acquisition of NetSuite for $9.3bn and its acquisition of PeopleSoft in 2005 for $10.3bn. With Accenture’s market cap at over $77bn, the deal would be by far its largest acquisition to date.

Oracle has been focusing on its cloud business, but is still considered to be behind market leaders Amazon Web Services, as well as Microsoft, Google and IBM. Following reports of the deal, Accenture’s stock fell, with some equity analysts raising concerns about the deal’s implications for Accenture’s independence and the risks to Accenture’s strong relationships with Oracle’s competitors like SAP, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Workday.

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January 2017: Consulting Market Update

Consulting M&A Activity and Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index Performance

ma-blog-cropped

By Ramone Param, Associate Director, Market Intelligence & Buyer Coverage, Equiteq.

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.

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