Grant Thornton corporate finance team completes duo of deals

25 July 2022 4 min. read

Grant Thornton’s corporate finance team has secured three deals across the UK. The firm oversaw the sale of Asset Plus to Johnson Controls in the built environment sector; while also leading on the sale of Davidson-Roberts to Family First Nursery Group.

Specialising in decarbonisation, Hampshire-based Asset Plus delivers sustainability savings for multiple NHS organisations, local authorities, and education establishments. It provides strategic support and project management for energy efficiency measures across complex built environments. In just six years of operation, this has seen the business grow to a £30 million turnover.

New York Stock Exchange listed Johnson Controls has recently been looking to establish a presence in the UK public sector. This has seen it appointed as a supplier under five key procurement frameworks including the Re:Fit Programme and the Carbon and Energy Fund (CEF), while the NHS recently selected Johnson Controls for its National Framework Agreement for the provision of Smart Building Solutions using the Internet of Things (IoT).

Operating in this space, Asset Plus’ acquisition complements Johnson Controls’ presence in the UK, offering opportunities for growth to both firms. Its services will further enable Johnson Controls to deliver a turnkey net zero offering to all our UK clients, across all sectors.

The deal was supported by Grant Thornton. The firm’s UK corporate finance team helped Asset Plus in order to achieve the “best valuation” for its business, with Managing Director and Co-Founder Paul Burnett stating the team’s “support and advice during the transaction process was exceptional.”

Usman Malik, M&A Partner and Head of Business Services at Grant Thornton UK, added, “Asset Plus generated a lot of interest when looking for potential buyers, as a result of the companies impressive rapid growth. The Built Environment services market is one where the Grant Thornton team continues to be highly active on a global basis. The resilience of the market, fuelled by long term contracts, is attractive to international investors so we expect to see continued activity in this space over the second half of the year.” 

The sale of Asset Plus marks another deal completed in an active built environment sector for Grant Thornton’s corporate finance team. Recently it advised on the sale of Incentive FM to Atalian Servest, while earlier in 2022, it also assisted with the sale of ISS Damage Control, and Total Security Solutions.

Davidson-Roberts + Family First Nursery Group

Founded in 2006 in Cambridgeshire, Davidson-Roberts has gone on to acquire nine more nurseries across Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. A number of its nurseries offer children Forest School sessions, which encourage a connection with the natural world.

The firm’s unique offering attracted the attentions of Family First Nursery Group (FFNG), as the private equity backed firm looks to expand its own services. Supported by August Equity, FFNG has plans to become a leading childcare provider in the UK, with a string of six M&A deals pushing it toward a target of reaching 80 sites by the end of this year.

As the firm becomes the latest of these purchases, Jane Roberts, Founder of Davidson-Roberts, said, “The successful growth journey of Davidson-Roberts over the last 15 years is down to the passion for the sector, from the whole of the team. I have loved the experience, leading the businesses growth, and now look forward to this next, exciting chapter. Family First Nursery Group is a company that shares our own values and is ready to take Davidson-Roberts, and the team, to the next level.”

FFNG is led by Chairman Andy Morris, who boasts extensive experience in growing children’s nursery groups. Previous ventures saw him take Asquith Nurseries to 92 nurseries before selling to Bright Horizons, and grow the OAC Childcare Group in Australia from 24 nurseries to 79. The latest move will see Davidson-Roberts help FFNG grow within commuter belts, metropolitan cities and areas of population growth.

Grant Thornton UK LLP’s corporate finance team advised Davidson-Roberts on the sale. Partner Mike Tillson, Director Andrew Frame Manager and Elizabeth MacGowan led the project, working closely with Julie Hughes, Partner at Cripps specialising in transactions in the Early Years sector, who along with her team, managed the legal aspects of the sale. Alongside its M&A support, Grant Thornton’s tax team also helped the complex demerger of the properties from the operating company as part of the transaction, before its sell side transaction tax team advised on implementing the demerger ahead of first round offers, to minimise tax costs and a deliver an effective solution for the shareholders.

Over the last year, there has been a combination of a fragmented marketplace, increased regulations, and a new normal in flexible working, all leading to record-levels of deal activity across the nursery sector. According to Andrew Frame, there continues to be significant interest from private equity backed groups fuelling this growth.

The Corporate Finance Director added, “Our team has provided advice on a number of deals across service lines, and we only expect activity to drive onwards. During the sale process we generated considerable interest in Davidson-Roberts from domestic and international buyers across private equity and trade, resulting in a great outcome for our client and a terrific home for the business in Family First.”