Focusing on the human side of the transaction enabled PwC to help secure Serax’s future investment partner
With the current private equity investor looking to sell its share in the business, Serax, a multinational player in the design industry, also partly owned by CEO Axel Van Den Bossche - who started the firm with his brother 30 years ago -, required a partner that could help it find a new investor that would be a good match for the business.
"As a minority shareholder in the firm, I was at the same time seller and buyer, which added in an additional layer of complexity in terms of pricing and made the need for a cultural fit going forward all the more important," says Axel Van Den Bossche.
Serax opted to work with PwC for the transaction. "PwC managed that complexity incredibly well, decreasing possible areas of tension and assuring the comfort of all parties at all times. From the beginning we felt PwC was a good match for Serax and we were confident of the firm’s ability to achieve the desired result." explains Axel Van Den Bossche.
We brought in our corporate finance and vendor assistance expertise to analyse the firm’s financials and present them in an understandable and attractive way to bidders. We made sure the entire business was covered, including the real estate asset where the client’s headquarters is based. And we included not just historical figures, but also a business plan of Serax’s ambitions going forward, complete with reasonable assumptions, which we helped it create.
We also called in our data analytics experts to take a deep dive into the data and produce assumptions at a granular level to make sure bidders had a complete and detailed picture of the business. As a financial specialist and trusted brand, PwC’s name meant that the financials were readily accepted by all bidders.
To give a true flavour of Serax, we developed marketing materials with a look and feel of the business, including an impressive book that brought across not just the financials, but told the story of the firm in a very attractive and engaging way, creating a very attractive proposition and persuasive argument to potential investors.
While price is often the main concern in these type of transactions, with Axel Van Den Bossche as both seller and buyer, and remaining CEO going forward, it was clear that we needed to also focus on the human side; to make sure that the outcome was the best for the future of the business, while assuring a fair price for all parties.
We first looked at potential new partners in the market, focusing only on those that would be a good match, and then brought a short list of potentials to the table for discussions. "While PwC introduced a strict process in terms of timing, it also made room for informal discussions between Serax and potential investors to enable us to get to know each other and get a sense of how we’d get on as partners. This really helped increase the level of comfort of everyone involved," explains Axel Van Den Bossche.
The move also helped to demonstrate the real value of the transaction which encouraged the buyer to increase its offer.
"PwC made room for informal discussions between Serax and potential investors to enable us to get a sense of how we’d get on as partners, helping increase the comfort levels of everyone involved."
The strict timeline also helped make sure that the process was efficient - the transaction was finalised in under six months - and had limited disruption on Serax’s day-to-day business. As did having a single point of contact within PwC, which we could offer as we have all services required for such a transaction under one roof.
Important for the process - and very much appreciated by the client - was the respectful and equal manner in which we treated all bidders, both the winner and those with whom Serax opted not to work, throughout the entire transaction process.
Being part of a global network and a trusted brand in the 157 countries in which we operate played an important part in the process as we were able to introduce Serax to first-rate private equity firms with a potential interest in our business not just from Belgium, but abroad too.
Serax is in a very niche market and wanted to make sure that its potential future partner understood and appreciated that. We made sure to only approach investors with that in mind.
Being a trusted brand, we were able to convince private equities outside of Belgium that likely hadn’t heard of Serax to look at the materials and consider the deal. Something, Axel Van Den Bossche admits, "We certainly wouldn’t have been able to achieve on our own, and I’m not sure how many other professional services firms could have done that for us either. Importantly, PwC put us in touch with the decision makers in these firms."
Serax is now working with Belgian firm Buysse & Partners, selected as the partner Serax was overall most comfortable with. Together, they have ambitious plans to double turnover over the coming years.
Based on Serax’s very positive experience with PwC during the entire assignment, we’re already working with the client on challenges that came to light during the process, specifically with regards the authorised economic operator (AEO) process and other improvements in the customs area Serax was facing.