Private equity firm Wicks Business Media has sold Northstar Travel Group, which operates Travel Weekly and a range of other business-to-business travel media brands, to Wasserstein Partners, a New York-based investment fund. The deal was advised on by a team of M&A advisers, lawyers and bankers, including consultants from AMR International.
Northstar Travel Group is a business-to-business information and marketing solutions company that serves the full breadth of the travel industry, including leisure/retail, corporate/business travel, meetings and incentives, and travel technology. The company, founded in 2001, owns well-known brands such as Travel Weekly, TravelAge West, Business Travel News, Successful Meetings, Meetings & Conventions, Travel Weekly China, Incentive, M&C China and Web in Travel. Northstar in addition owns Phocuswright, a research and business intelligence player for the travel industry, and is the majority shareholder in Inntopia, a SaaS e-commerce software provider.
In 2012 Northstar Travel Group was acquired to Wicks Business Media, a private equity firm that focuses on mid-market companies in the United States and Canada, when it completed a purchase from BV Investment Partners, another private equity group. Under the helm of Wicks, Northstar booked solid growth over the past four years, and as a result the group caught the eye of several other investors. Among the interested firms was Wasserstein Partners, a US-based buyout fund that holds stakes in mid-market enterprises in the media & communications, consumer products and water & industrial sectors.
In the summer the two private equity groups announced that they had agree a deal to transfer the full ownership of Northstar Travel Group from Wicks to Wasserstein*. “We are very impressed with the growth of Northstar Travel Group over the last few years,” said Anup Bagaria, co-Managing Partner of Wasserstein. “The management team has done an excellent job of transforming its core business into an integrated information, data, software, event and marketing solutions company.”
With the financial capital of Wasserstein, the travel specialist is set enter its “next phase of growth”, said Thomas Kemp, Chairman and CEO the firm, adding that he sees a variety of untapped opportunities in the travel and tourism sector, a market he describes as one of the “most dynamic industries in the world”. The growth is expected to be leveraged from three main pillars – geographic expansion, new product development and strategic acquisitions. Under Wicks’ dynasty Northstar was already an active acquirer, buying Asian travel brands including Web in Travel, Travel Weekly Asia, and Travel Weekly China, among others. It also acquired Mountain Travel Symposium, an events business aimed at the ski and outdoors sector. In the period to come, the firm is expected to ramp up its inorganic growth approach, in particular as it pushes further into the digital space.
Wasserstein is not new to the media sector; among its portfolio is Penton, which has a collection of B2B publications including Aviation Week and dozens of specialty and regional aviation titles in the US. Bagaria has confirmed that Northstar and Penton will remain independent of one another, with Northstar CEO Tom Kemp, a former CEO of Penton when it was under different ownership, and the executive team to maintain their leadership positions.
Daniel Kortick, Managing Partner of Wicks, said he is very pleased with the deal, adding “We wish the team and Wasserstein the best as the company embarks on its next phase of growth.”
The transaction was advised on by several external law firms, banking groups and consulting firms. Harris Williams represented Northstar Travel Group in the transaction and acted as its exclusive financial adviser. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius provided legal advice. AMR International, a management consultancy with four offices globally, provided Vendor-initiated Commercial Due Diligence (VCDD) on the transaction. Kemp: “We were very pleased with the market and competitive intelligence on our business and served markets provided by AMR International during our sale process, which down the line facilitated an excellent outcome for all parties.”
Macquarie Capital provided financing and acted as financial adviser to Wasserstein on the transaction. Jones Day served as the legal adviser.
* Investing alongside Wasserstein Partners were co-investors Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund Board, John Hancock and Storebrand Insurance.