Jordy Kool was standing in front of a decision with Infotheek. Would they go left, develop into a niche player as a supplier of ICT-equipment from Leiden. Smal, comfortable, but vulnerable. Straight forward would mean the company would have to step up their game in order to compete with the big guys in Europe. Infotheek chose the last option.
Kool (41) is chief executive officer (ceo) and co-owner of Infotheek. Seven years ago the ex-marine with a business degree stepped into the management of the organisation, he is statutory director since 2010. The (profitable) revenue grew in that period from €55 mln to €317 mln, autonomous and through acquisitions. The workforce is above five hundred.
At the beginning of March it became known investment fund Altor from Sweden had taken over a part over the company. It was a brief report in the FD. Financial details about the transaction were not disclosed. Also not now. Instead, Kool is willing to explain the transaction.
Infotheek says they differentiate by quality, reliability, involved salesman and quick delivery. The company now, has 90.000 customers in Europe. But is that enough? Last summer it was time for a strategy session with the supervisory board, top management and advisors. The key question: how to proceed? Kool: “The hardware market is under pressure. Volumes grow, but the average sales price is going down. The margin decreases.” In other words: Infotheek needs to put in more effort for the same result.
The battle becomes more intense, especially now that Amazon and the Chinese Alibaba are offering their competitive products in the small business market. In addition, more customers are renting their ICT-equipment instead of buying them. The service that Infotheek delivers with the sales add a compelling revenue. But with all of your own equipment, you need a strong financial buffer on your balance. “You will have a financing discussion”, Kool analyses.
This made the strategic choice obvious. We needed a strong investor in order to move forward: “In Europe there are about ten resellers, of which some reach a revenue of €1 bln to €3 bln. We are in the top ten. In the top ten we are by far the smallest, but we grow fast.”
The search for a partner could start. A serious strategic party – Kool is not allowed to call names – offered a non-binding offer. The company withdrawn because they had own problems. “But it gave us a good example of the positioning and value of Infotheek.”
The interest from private equity funds was bigger. Even before the search, several parties approached Infotheek. A selection was made quick, after that Kool could start. At first it was between work, but when the end approached it was all about the transaction. In the meantime he strengthened the top management.
“We have spoken to several parties, from Londen, the US and Canada”, he told. Big parties with big promises. Eventually they chose Altor from Sweden, which has been active in the Netherlands before with an investment in Meyn Oostzaan (chicken slaughter lines). The investor is relatively unknown in the financial world. But it is a solid party, according to Kool, with deep pockets for acquisitions.
And even more important, Altor is a private-equity party with knowledge and experience in the branch. They also invested in Dustin. The revenue of this firm, active in the same industry, from Stockholm went up from €200 mln to €900 mln. After that the shareholder went to the stock exchange.
Off the stock exchange
Private-equity funds mostly have an investment view of about five years. With Inthotheek they have not made any agreements. Let alone Kool can tell whether there are any stock exchange plans like Dustin. It would be a special event for Infotheek. 25 Years ago Infotheek got off the stock exchange because of bankruptcy, after which they made a new start.
For now they have been working on the take-over of April 1st. A so called “closing-dinner”, where all the involved parties celebrate the transaction, has nog been planned because they have been so busy. “We pushed it a bit more. These months are the best for Infotheek.”
Writing signatures for four hours
Signing the agreement was also not celebrated very big. The director was the only of all five hundred Infotheek employees who stayed at the office. He had to write signatures for four and a half hours. After that they opened a bottle of champagne, which was brought by the guiding law firm. “I did not feel fit that day, so I did not have a glass,” says Kool. “After the transaction I just went back to my daily business.”