Demand for acquisitions set to grow in 2018

Our fourth annual global survey of buyers of consulting businesses delivers current, actionable intelligence in the five segments Equiteq specializes in: Management consulting, IT consulting, Media & Marketing, Engineering consulting and HR consulting. Findings, published today, reveal:

  • Buyers expect to initiate 50% more acquisitions year-on-year
  • Convergence continues to be a key trend as buyers look to diversify
  • 55% of buyers think targets could be better at communicating their market proposition
  • 94% of buyers say it is important to retain management teams post-acquisition
  • Over 70% of targets do not make their IP apparent to prospective buyers
  • Three quarters of buyers expect at least 40% of a target’s clients to be blue chip
  • Deal structures are improving for sellers

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Creating a C-suite to build equity value

If you own a knowledge-led services firm in a sector such as consulting, IT services or media and you want to grow revenues to, say, $30m, it is unlikely that the expertise of the founders will be able to drive this. What you need is a team of specialist C-suite executives on board.

However, at some stage a founders-only team will put a break on growth. Here are three reasons why founders maintain the status quo and fail to see the damage it may be doing to their business:

  1. Growth creeps up on you so you don’t notice the degree to which the requirements have changed

During the start-up phase your main focus will be delivering on your particular domain expertise, but as time goes by you’ll spend more time on anything from finances to dealing with people issues.

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The highest price for your consulting business may well come from outside your core industry

The most prolific acquirers of knowledge-led businesses are undergoing unprecedented diversification and convergence across adjacent consulting segments and sectors. At the same time, digital transformation is driving hybrid business models with consulting, technology and managed service revenue. This change is fuelling high levels of M&A activity from trade and private equity investors, which we review in our 2017 M&A report. For owners considering selling their business, an appreciation of these trends is critical to uncovering the synergistic buyers that may offer the highest value.

Convergence between consulting offerings

Global consulting clients are increasingly looking to their advisors for best-in-class, end-to-end consulting solutions. These trends are driving established consulting buyers to use M&A to enter new geographies and acquire complementary capabilities.

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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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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

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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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December 2016: Consulting Market Update

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

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By Ramone Param, Market Insights & Buyer Coverage Associate, Equiteq.

2016 ended with a number of high-profile deals being signed across all five of our knowledge-intensive services segments. The share prices of many listed consultants that form part of our Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index also reached record highs. This continued strong investor confidence in the sector is also observed across other industries as reflected by the strong gains of the S&P 500 and Dow Jones, as well as the FTSE 100 which reached an all-time high by year end.

december-update-blog-image-1The largest deal to be announced in December was KKR & Co.’s acquisition of cyber-security specialist, Optiv Security, from The Blackstone Group. The deal followed Blackstone’s filing for an initial public offering of Optiv last month. The sale of the business follows a number of recent high-profile and lucrative private equity exits of portfolio companies operating in the consulting sector, including the sale of Pactera by Blackstone and the sale of AlixPartners by CVC Capital Partners. We expect that these successful landmark sales will support strong appetite from financial buyers investing in the sector in the New Year.

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