Doughty Hanson in deal for global oil and gas firm Asco

THE private equity house best known for its investments in LK Bennett and Jimmy Choo has sold Asco, its oil and gas business.

Phoenix Equity Partners sold the fast-growing oil and gas logistics firm, based in Aberdeen, to Doughty Hanson & Co, five years after paying £134m for it.

The value of the latest sale has not been revealed but City A.M. understands it was for under £250m after an auction run by Lexicon Partners.

Cinven and AEA Investors, the vehicle advised by former BP chief executive Tony Hayward, were also believed to have been among the bidders. A sale worth up to £300m has been rumoured as recently as last month.

Asco changed hands yesterday in a transaction with no debt but Doughty will look to put in some borrowings in future, sources said.

The existing management team has kept a stake in Asco, which is seeking fresh capital in order to enter the next phase of its rapid international expansion.

John Gemmell, principal at Doughty Hanson, which also owns cinema chain Vue, said they had bought into Asco because it had performed well during the downturn.

The firm has more than doubled its revenues from £240m in 2005 to more than £500m in the past year, and is now a global brand, despite the uncertainty facing Britain’s oil and gas sector because of George Osborne’s Budget raid on North Sea oil and gas firms.

“Asco is internationally recognised for its strong and reliable service capabilities and impeccable safety record”, Gemmell said.

“With growing demand for energy, the company is well positioned to benefit from the trend towards specialist outsourced logistics, particularly in the emerging high growth oil and gas markets.”

Asco co-ordinates the supply of goods, such as drilling equipment and food, going to and from oil rigs and platforms. It has more than 1,600 staff and has broadened its global presence in the past few years, opening several bases across Asia and the Middle East including in Azerbaijan.

In 2009 it entered the Asia-Pacific market with the opening of an Asco Freight Management operation in Singapore. It also added to its European network with a Dutch operation after entering into a joint venture with the Maritime Services Centre IJmond group in Holland.

Billy Allan, chief executive of Asco, said: “Over the last five years Asco has consolidated its market-leading position and it’s clear that Doughty Hanson’s aspirations and enthusiasm for our business moving forward will add significant momentum as we move into our next exciting international growth phase.”

Twelve months ago Doughty Hanson agreed to buy Vue Entertainment from Cavendish Square Partners, a joint venture between private equity group Coller Capital and Lloyds Banking Group, US hedge fund Och-Ziff and existing management. The deal valued Britain’s third-largest cinema chain at around £450m.

Doughty Hanson was set up by Sir Nigel Doughty and Richard Hanson in 1984 and has gone on to become one of the biggest private equity and fund management firms in Europe.

Doughty, pictured left, is the owner of Nottingham Forest FC, his hometown club. He stepped down as chairman last month, however, when Steve McClaren quit and claimed the club lacked “ambition”.

He also gave the Labour party £1.01m in the run-up to the last general election, when many big business donors were wooed to the Conservatives by pledges to cut red tape and to scrap Gordon Brown’s planned national insurance rise.

Doughty is also a committed philanthropist, having set up the Doughty Hanson Charitable Foundation, which fights poverty, disability and homelessness and promotes healthcare and education, and his own Doughty Family Foundation, set up with wife Lucy.

Phoenix, a mid-market buyout firm, sold out of Jimmy Choo, the iconic ladies’ shoe designer, in 2004 but still has a stake in upmarket clothes retailer LK Bennett, into which it invested with Sirius Equity three years ago.

FAST FACTS | DOUGHTY HANSON
● Bought cinema chain Vue Entertainment in November 2010 in a deal valuing the business at £450m. Doughty Hanson reportedly beat rival offers from BC Partners and the private equity arm of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.

● Doughty Hanson hired JP Morgan as an adviser in March as it considered a sale, flotation or re-financing of Spanish bus firm Avanza Group, Spain’s second-largest bus company after Alsa.

● Other current investments include industrials group HellermannTyton, which could be sold for up to £800m next year, high-end luggage and business accessory business Tumi, and Zobele, an Italian manufacturer of electric air fresheners and insecticide products.

● Previous investments include sportswear brand Umbro, upmarket watch firm Tag Heuer and the Priory rehabilitation group.