VSS makes Clarion call

UK mid-market firm HgCapital has sold Clarion Events, a UK exhibition and events company. The London-based group has been acquired by US private equity house Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS) for £120.5m.

The sale generated HgCapital a 34% IRR for its investors following an October 2004 MBO from property group Earls Court & Olympia, paying £45m for the privilege. Clarion is the biggest independent exhibition and events business in the UK with a portfolio of 65 business-to-business and consumer shows. Its best known events include: the Olympia International Horse of the Year Show, the MPH Motor Show, Baby 2008; and The Fine Art & Antiques Fair.

VSS specialises in investing in the media, information and education industries, and is backing the existing management team led by Simon Kimble, CEO and Tim Pilcher, COO, both of whom remain significant shareholders. The New York-headquartered outfit has already announced the installation of David Arculus, a former chairman of Earl’s Court and Olympia as well as a founder of Emap Business Communications, as the non-executive chairman of the company.

Marco Sodi, Partner at VSS, said, “We have been investing in the exhibitions and events sectors for a long time and are extremely impressed with the Clarion management and their strong brands. We feel we have acquired a premier asset with leading ‘must attend’ shows.”

Since the 2004 buyout, the business has grown ahead of the market both organically and through acquisition. Revenues have increased ahead of the market both organically and through acquisition, from £30m to £53m. Also up are the number of major events and exhibitions organised, more then double their number in 2004, and employee numbers have risen by more than 50%, from 120 to 185.

In addition, Clarion has successfully expanded internationally with events organised in 14 countries around the world and the opening of a US office. HgCapital has also supported management in making eight acquisitions.

Robin Lincoln, director of HgCapital, said: “We are delighted with the progress Clarion has made, measured by any metric, under our ownership. Through supporting management in entering new sectors and in making a series of bolt-on acquisitions, Clarion is now well placed to continue to grow internationally.”