Time to step back and recognize last year’s top deals

It’s that time again … time to recognize private equity firms for their outstanding work on deals.

Five firms stood out this year for strong work and lucrative exits in 2016: Carlyle Group, American Capital, KPS Capital Partners, Providence Equity Partners and Levine Leichtman Capital Partners.

Deal of the year gives us here at Buyouts a chance to take a step back and look at how some of the great deals we cover all year actually get done. It’s important to see the inside of these transactions — to understand the goals managers set at the outset of a deal and how they work over two or three or five or seven years to realize those goals.

I have a bias for transactions in which deal partners get their hands dirty; buy and sell companies that actually make stuff; and make operational improvements that are tangible, clear and significant to the success and growth of the business. I’m not the only voice in the room, though, when it comes to judging Deal of the Year. Other editors here have different views, and we argue and come to consensus.

One of the most interesting deals I’ve seen won our large-market deal of the year. This was Providence Equity’s sale of Ministry Brands, which my colleague Sam Sutton wrote up. Ministry provides cloud-based services for faith-based organizations, covering everything from parishioner donations to background checks for child-care providers.

Might just be me, but dropping a dollar in a basket at Sunday Mass doesn’t conjure up images of private equity guys. But that’s why I’m not making the big bucks — because there apparently is money to be made in church donations (among other things).

The software market for faith-based institutions was highly fragmented, Sam wrote. The company is based in Tennessee; “there’s no direct flights into Knoxville, and to us that makes it more interesting,” said John Marquis, a VP at Providence.

Meanwhile, Groupe Marle, a medical-implant-forging business that won our international deal of the year for Carlyle, was a family business that Bernard Marle of Nogent, France, inherited from his father and ran for 30 years. When Marle decided to sell, he enlisted the help of a seller who was the son of the local tavern owners, wrote my colleague Eamon Murphy.

Vladimir Lasocki, a managing director with Carlyle in Europe, said he got wind of Groupe Marle’s intention to sell. He met with Marle and the two talked shop and drank wine until 1 a.m. “We sealed a very good rapport on the first day, literally,” Lasocki said.

Under Carlyle’s ownership, Group Marle expanded into the full spectrum of implant manufacturing, which includes forging, machining and finishing. With its expanded offering, the company also expanded internationally.

These are just two of the great successes PE firms brought to their portfolio companies last year. We’re happy to tell their stories. While one of my favorite things to cover is drama, success stories are also a good way to spend the day.

Private Equity Editor Chris Witkowsky reflects at home. Photo by Wendy Witkowsky