Cleartone is a designer, manufacturer and supplier of mobile / fixed and transportable radio and data communications products to the emergency services.
The company was controlled by Aspen Group Plc who wanted to sell their holding in Cleartone as part of a realization programme following their privatization from The London Stock Exchange in 1999. Aspen was partly owned by 3i who introduced the opportunity to ICON.
Although Cleartone was well placed to benefit from the rollout of the new TETRA networks there were a number of issues the MBI team needed to face:
- The timetable for the rollout of TETRA (the new digital wireless) network was being delayed.
- The performance of TETRA was unproven and some press articles were negative about it at that time.
- The telecoms sector was bombing out, and far from buying, many telcos were debt laden and disposing of assets and two major competitors Marconi and Simoco in the UK had both been sold.
- Performance of the business had suffered and results were lumpy at best
Nevertheless, although the conditions were not great, the potential for growth in the digital radio market was significant. We highlighted this potential in our Information Memorandum and received interest from 18 companies, ranging form large US companies to mid-tier UK listed companies and some “buy-in” candidates.
We received several indicative offers and exclusivity was given to a management buy-in team led by Richard Hill who was financed by Bank of Scotland Plc. The transaction was structured with a cash consideration that together with restricted warranties provided the clean exit the shareholders sought. A short earn out was also negotiated to cover the remainder of the current financial period.
We got a good deal for the vendors and importantly, the purchaser knew the business well and saw significant growth potential from the radio communications market.