Apax’s French Office Sees Active Winter

Apax Partners & Cie announced four new investments between early December and early January. The most recent was the buyout of Groupe Lehmann, a distributor of building materials and industrial fixtures. Groupe Lehmann, founded early this century, is market leader in the Alsace region’s building products sector and generated a turnover of over FFr 500 million (ecu 75 million) in 1997.

Apax-managed funds, including the quoted Altamir vehicle, acquired two thirds of the company’s equity for an undisclosed sum. Managing director and former majority shareholder Bernard Lehmann and SADE, Groupe Lehmann’s existing backer, share the balance.

Apax said a successful acquisition strategy had secured Groupe Lehmann’s leading regional position. The package includes funding to support continued expansion of the company.

Prior to the Group Lehmann deal, Apax led a FFr 200 million expansion funding round for Synt:em, a two-year-old drug discovery company. Synt:em uses molecular modelling techniques or “in silico screening” to identify therapeutic agents for clients in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. The company now plans to build on its expertise in this field to develop a range of new drugs based on a proprietary therapeutic technology, Peptrans, which enables the trans-membranal intercelluar delivery of active molecules.

Apax-managed funds, including Altamir, together with Banexi Ventures and a group of regional investors, participated in the funding round. The new capital will support development of the Peptrans therapeutics. Dr Laurent Ganem, who heads Apax’s healthcare and biotech activities, described Synt:em as “one of the most innovative companies in the drug discovery field”.

Syntem, which had sales of around FFr 6 million in 1997, draws on the work of several dozen researchers affiliated to university research departments, particularly the Centre for Structural Biochemistry at the University of Montpellier. It also works closely with the Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), with which it has a research agreement. In addition to the funding from the Apax-led syndicate, Anvar, France’s state research funding body, recently awarded Synt:em FFr 6 million.

Apax’s French funds took part in a FFr 40 million capital injection for AXS Telecom International alongside Schroder Ventures and the CDC-Participations affiliate funds Part’Com and In-Com. AXS is a European telephone service provider which offers long-distance and international call services. The company offers clients considerable savings in comparison to the major telecoms providers on calls to over 200 destinations worldwide. AXS is present in the UK, Spain, and France, where it began operations in 1995. It expects its turnover, forecast at FFr 50 million for 1997, to quadruple in 1998.

In another telecoms-related investment, the French Apax funds took a 10% holding in Alain Bernard Finance & Innovation (ABFI), the holding company for SJT, a major audiotex telephone information services company. Apax formed part of a syndicate which was led by ABN AMRO and included SJT’s founder, Alain Bernard, SJT’s management team and Groupe Credit National’s EPF vehicle.

SJT operates in two principal areas: its “editorial” side provides up-to-date news and information on such topics as horse racing and other sporting events and financial markets; the administrative services side allows clients to handle their banking, registration, licensing and other administrative needs by phone. SJT is the dominant player the European audiotex market with some 8,000 lines handling 250 million calls a year. Its annual sales are currently running at around FFr 340 million. Apax and the other backers reportedly regard SJT as a likely candidate for flotation.