Geon gets new owners as Gresham Private Equity leaves print industry

The joint venture pair became involved with Geon last year, when they acquired a portfolio of debt from Bank of Scotland International (BOSI), which included Geon's debt, thought to be over $80 million.

The process of converting this debt to equity completed yesterday (11 February).

In a letter sent to all staff, Geon chief executive Graham Morgan said: "After the announcements that I have made over previous weeks, I am pleased to advise that, as a result of Gresham Private Equity reaching an agreement to exit their interests in Geon, our company has today been transferred to KKR & Co LP (KKR) and Sydney-based Allegro Funds (Allegro).

"This follows the announcement that I made in November 2012 that our financiers, Bank of Scotland International, had sold a portfolio of loans, which included its finance facilities with GEON, to KKR and Allegro.

"I personally welcome KKR and Allegro as our new owners."

A KKR spokesperson would not shed much light on what was to come, other than to say it was "business as usual" and the new owners would "look at the business and develop the strategy throughout that process".

[Related: Morgan makes 2012 Power 50]

The deal marks the end of Gresham's eight-year relationship with Geon.

Gresham bought a controlling interest in the Pacific Print Group in 2005, and rebranded it as Geon in February 2007. What followed was a strategy of consolidation, adding 15 companies to the trans-Tasman print giant, including the largest, Promentum Group, in May 2007.

Gresham's roll-up strategy was mirrored by another private equity group, CHAMP, which went on a concurrent M&A spree in the Australian and New Zealand printing industry with rival group Blue Star.

Geon struggled to perform in recent years, gradually wiping value off Gresham's investment and forcing the private equity firm to tip in more money, including a massive debt-for-equity swap in 2011. 

It is rumoured that after the BOSI sale, Gresham remained a guarantor for loans worth millions and may have had to strike a potentially costly agreement with KKR and Allegro to extricate itself from the print group.

Gresham's exit comes on the heels of Champ's departure from Blue Star through the twin sales to Geoff Selig and Tom Sturgess.

Exact figures are difficult to find, but it would seem that between them, the pair of private equity firms lost hundreds of millions of dollars during their adventures in printing.

[LinkedIn: Is private equity good for the industry?]

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