Blackstone buys historic camera firm

PRIVATE equity giant Blackstone bought a piece of European cultural history yesterday when it took a stake in German camera-maker Leica.

Blackstone spent upwards of €122m (£106.47m) to buy a 44 per cent share in Leica Camera from Austrian billionaire Andreas Kaufmann.

The roots of Leica go back to 1907, when Max Berek began producing binoculars. It created its first camera seven years later and devotees went on to include Henri Cartier-Bresson, the iconic Frenchman who photographed Gandhi and Picasso.

The fortunes of Leica have been up and down since then, however. It almost went into insolvency in 2005 but was profitable in the year to March 2011 on sales of nearly €250m.

It wants to double this figure as it expands by opening new shops in Asia and capitalising on demand for small system cameras, which have interchangeable lenses but are not as bulky as traditional digital single-lens reflex cameras

“We do not feel any uncertainty,” chief executive Alfred Schopf said yesterday. Kaufmann said the firm’s strategy will not change and vowed that his family’s investment vehicle, ACM Projektentwicklung, will retain a majority stake in Leica.