Huntsworth goes private as £524m sale completes; new chairman named

Grayling, Red and Citigate Dewe Rogerson owner Huntsworth has completed its £524m sale to private equity firm CD&R.

Huntsworth is 'well placed to grow' following sale, says CEO Paul Taaffe
Huntsworth is 'well placed to grow' following sale, says CEO Paul Taaffe

The move sees the departure of chairman David Lowden, who has been replaced by Liam FitzGerald, operating advisor to CD&R funds. FitzGerald is the former CEO of UDG Healthcare, the listed heathcare group that owns UK-based health-focused PR agencies Pegasus, Galliard Healthcare and Incisive Health.

Three other non-executive directors have also stepped down: Andrew Boland, Nicola Dulieu and Patricia Billingham.

Previously listed on the London Stock Exchange, Huntsworth announced in March that it had agreed the sale at a price of 108p per share.

In a statement this morning, Huntsworth CEO Paul Taaffe said: “We believe the acquisition of Huntsworth by CD&R is a great outcome for the company, our clients and shareholders.

“Huntsworth has grown rapidly as it invested in becoming a leading healthcare services focused business. We believe we are well placed to grow going forward as our pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients continue to navigate the current crisis and develop new vaccines, medicines and technologies.

“As a private company and with CD&R’s backing, we expect Huntsworth will be able to further invest in meeting the needs of global healthcare clients. We are excited for this next phase of the group’s journey.”

CD&R, which is based in the US and London, has invested in a number of firms in the medical sector, while Huntsworth has been growing its medical and pharma marcomms business in recent years.

Like-for-like revenue growth in its Medical arm was 8.5 per cent in 2019, reaching £45.1m.

Healthcare made up 72 per cent of revenue in 2019, up from 67 per cent in 2018. That followed the acquisition of healthcare agencies Kyne and Creativ-Ceutical alongside like-for-like revenue growth in healthcare of five per cent.

Overall, Huntsworth reported a 27 per cent rise in pre-tax profit to £39.1m in 2019 on revenue up 18 per cent to £264.9m.

FitzGerald said: “Huntsworth presented an exciting opportunity for CD&R to invest in a company that we believe is strongly weighted towards a higher growth, defensive sector, underpinned by long-term, stable trends.

“The management team has a demonstrated record of success; our vision aligns with theirs; and we look forward to supporting the company as it seeks to accelerate toward the next stage of profitable growth.”

Operating profit in Huntsworth's PR business surged by 38 per cent in 2019 as the division returned to growth.

According to PRWeek's latest UK Top 150 Consultancies table, published this week, UK revenue at Grayling rose 19 per cent in 2019 to £12.5m. There was also growth for Citigate, which grew five per cent to £11.5m, while revenue at Red fell two per cent to £12.8m.

The sale price is a premium of about 50 per cent on the share price at close of trading on 2 March (72p). The valuation is 10.8 times Huntsworth's underlying earnings (EBITDA) in 2019.

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