In one of the largest B2B media transactions this year, Northstar Travel Group, which provides a broad array of products in the retail and corporate events markets, was sold from one private-equity firm—the Wicks Group—to another, Wasserstein Partners, Northstar CEO Thomas Kemp said on June 7.
Investing alongside Wasserstein Partners IV were co-investors Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund Board, John Hancock, and Storebrand Insurance.
Northstar, based in Secaucus, New Jersey, owns brands including Travel Weekly, TravelAge West, Business Travel News, Successful Meetings, and Meetings & Conventions. It has expanded aggressively in Asia, building out versions of its domestic brands in China as well as adding new ones. Northstar produces more than 50 face-to-face events in 13 countries. It owns the business intelligence and event producer Phocuswright, which serves the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry—online travel distribution. And it’s the majority shareholder in Inntopia, the leading SaaS e-commerce software provider serving the mountain destination, activities, and specialty destination travel markets.
“We are excited to welcome Wasserstein as our new partner to provide the capital and investment experience to help Northstar achieve our next phase of growth,” Kemp said. “Wicks has been a great partner to the company and we thank them for providing guidance and insight over the last four years.”
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but Northstar has grown dramatically in the last seven years, with a compound annual growth rate of 14% in that period, Kemp said. The company expects revenue to hit USD 80 million in 2016, and is growing organically at a current rate of 10%, according to Kemp. It has reduced print ad revenue from 75% to about 30% of total revenue, and it's estimated that 2016 EBITDA for Northstar will be approximately USD 20 million, a 24% margin.
Kemp also said the Northstar deal goes counter to the prevailing thinking that drives recent B2B media transactions, in which buyers seek (and executive teams prefer) a dominant, single-channel position. Reed Exhibitions and UBM both represent that model, Kemp said. Indeed, UBM just last week sold off its electronics-media portfolio, including EE Times, EDN, ESM, Embedded, EBN, TechOnline and DataSheets.com, for USD 23.5 million. And late last week, it acquired the Content Marketing Institute, whose major business is the Content Marketing World show.
While Wasserstein already owns two major B2B companies—Penton and ALM—Kemp said Northstar Travel Group will remain independent, and retain its management team (including Kemp) and is the first portfolio company in a new Wasserstein Fund 4.
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