11 February 2015

ASX-listed recruitment companies: Going, going, gone

Four weeks ago giant Japanese recruiter, Recruit, concurrently announced agreements to purchase both peoplebank and Chandler Macleod.
 
As the respective boards of both companies are recommending that shareholders accept the bid, and with no alternative bid likely, both companies will soon be fully owned by Japanese investors.
 
John C Plummer will pocket just under AUD$39 million for his stake in Chandler Macleod while his father V John Plummer will have to make do with just over AUD$30 million for his share of the company.
 
The Malaysian private equity business that owns Peoplebank will receive AUD$122 million for their shares.
 
These two transactions quicken the demise of the Australian-listed recruitment sector that I predicted back in June, 2012 as its numbers will now dwindle to five when Chandler Macleod delists.
 
Here’s a short history of the sector (if I have missed any departed companies please advise me):

Company
Delisted
Reason
Bluestone
2014
Administration
HJB
2013
Administration
Talent2
2012
Purchased by Morgan & Banks Investments and Allegis (USA)
Ross Human Directions
2011
Purchased by Chandler Macleod (Aus)
Peoplebank
2009
Purchased by private equity (Malaysia)
Integrated Group
2007
Purchased by Programmed Maintenance Services (Aus)
Catalyst
2006
Purchased by Skilled Group
Recruitment Solutions
2002
Purchased by major shareholders of Chandler Macleod
Management Recruiters
1999 or 2000 (?)
Administration
Morgan & Banks
1999
Purchased by TMP  (USA)

Bluestone
Bluestone stared life in late 2008, just before the full impact of the GFC hit, as Humanis Group, a private equity venture that built a company on the back of acquiring specialist blue-collar recruitment company Westaff for $19 million. A string of subsequent acquisitions burdened the company with a level of debt that it could never trade itself out of as CEOs came and went with concerning regularity.
 
A public brawl with co-founder Jeff Jones also made for unwelcome publicity. Rebranded as Bluestone Global in late 2012, the company collapsed less than a year later, owing unsecured creditors $86 million. Some assets of the business were purchased by The Beddison Group. The subsequent administrators’ report summarised that Bluestone had ‘…expanded quickly by acquisition while failing to effectively integrate its purchases or control its overheads’.
 
HJB
Founded in 1978, listed on the ASX in 2000 and delisted after going into administration in 2013, I devoted a whole blog to the sorry saga of HJB’s rise and fall.
 
Talent2
In late 2003, after a year of gardening leave, Andrew Banks and Geoff Morgan purchased listed payroll and HR systems company, Concept Systems International, started a recruitment arm and immediately rebranded the business as Talent 2. The business grew strongly and the share price rose accordingly.
 
In late 2010 a partnership with US-based global staffing company, Allegis was announced.
 
Profitability took a big hit in 2011 and the share price almost halved. In early 2012 Banks and Morgan announced plans to delist Talent 2 with their own investment vehicle, and Allegis, purchasing the T2 shares at 78 cents each; a tough pill for medium term shareholders to swallow.
 
In July 2014 Allegis purchased the balance of Talent 2 shares from Morgan & Banks Investments. Banks and Morgan no longer have any formal role at Talent 2. Andrew Banks has now returned to the small screen (he was an actor before becoming a recruiter), starring in the just-launched Network Ten production The Shark Tank.
 
Ross Human Directions
From humble beginnings in 1988 as a one office secretarial recruitment business in Sydney, Julia Ross floated her business a decade later. This led to her becoming, for a period in the early 2000s, Australia’s richest self-made woman.
 
Unfortunately an inability to retain CEOs and other senior executives saw Julia Ross return to the role of CEO in the late 2000’s. After HRD was purchased by Chandler Macleod in 2010, Julia Ross subsequently left both the company and the Australian recruitment industry shortly afterwards.
 
Last year Ross sold her Sydney harbourside mansion for a 2014 record residential price, and now resides in her native England.
 
Peoplebank
Peoplebank was founded by Leon Lau in 1990 and listed on the ASX in June 2005 with a market capitalisation of $20 million having purchased DMA, Leaders in IT, Gambit and Mastech in the previous four years. As an IT specialist, Peoplebank grew dramatically with the acquisition of competitor agency Ambit (founded by Peter and Rod Butterss) for $100 million at the end of 2007.
 
At the time of the merger, it was forecast that the 2008/09 financial result would see sales of the combined entity top $500 million and operating profit be in the region of $24 million. In 2013/2014 Peoplebank recorded sales of $522 million and an operating profit of $14 million.
 
In 2009 Leon Lau and his private equity partners, Navis Capital, privatised Peoplebank, valuing the company at $58 million. Peoplebank then made an unsuccessful offer for Ross Human Directions in 2010, eventually being outbid by Chandler Macleod.
 
Integrated Group
Jon Whittle founded Integrated, originally a labour hire company, in 1992, listed the company on the ASX in 1999 and was its CEO for 14 years until 2006. Along the way they diversified into maintenance operations (successfully) and training (less successfully). The business was sold to ASX-listed Programmed Maintenance Services in 2007 for $217 million.
 
At the time of the purchase, Programmed expected that its acquisition would help it deliver a net profit of $30 million in the 2008 financial year. In 2013/14 Programmed reported a net profit of $30.5 million. New Integrated CEO, Chris Sutherland was promoted to CEO of Programmed in 2008, with Brian Styles taking over the leadership of Integrated until he left the company in April 2013.
 
Catalyst
Established in 1991, Catalyst floated on the ASX in 1999. At the time of the sale to the Skilled Group Catalyst operated in 23 locations, employed 164 staff, had sales of $122 million and generated an after-tax profit of $3.4 million.
 
Catalyst’s core business was industrial and labour hire but it also acquired a range of recruitment businesses including Trinity (executive IT and commercial), Premium (call centre and government); Wine Workforce (wine and bottling); and Active Labour Hire (mining and industrial), Green & Green (executive and government), Jet Recruitment (Tasmanian-based call centre and government) and Partners in Computing (IT recruitment).
 
George Zammit, Catalyst founder and MD at the time of the Skilled takeover, left Skilled in early 2007.
 
Recruitment Solutions
After listing at $1 in late 1998, the stock continued an upward climb, touching $2 on the back of a highly profitable accounting and business support temporary division. Disagreements at board level saw cofounder, Greg Savage depart in late 1999. Managing Director, John MacSmith retired a year later.
 
The company never recovered, with the share price spiraling down to 25 cents before V. John Plummer’s company, (Ego, a major shareholder in Chandler Macleod) launched a takeover bid at 38 cents.
 
The Recruitment Solutions brand was folded into Chandler Macleod and subsequently the Plummer family listed the merged Chandler Macleod and Forstaff businesses on the ASX in 2005. The Recruitment Solutions brand was slowly wound down by Chandler Macleod and is no longer used.
 
Management Recruiters Australia
Floated as a ‘House of Brands’ concept and loosely similar to the Rubicor model, it proved to be one of the shortest tenures of any recruitment company on the ASX, lasting (from memory) less than two years.
 
Adecco purchased what was saleable from the MRA collapse, retained the Management Recruiters brand and brought its operations under their Ajilon subsidiary, at that time housing the businesses Ajilon Consulting, Ajilon Professional Staffing, Forbes Human Resources, Icon Recruitment, Jonathan Wren and TAD Technical Careers & Contracts. The Management Recruiters brand was subsequently wound down and is no longer active.
 
Morgan & Banks
If you bought IPO shares and reinvested all your dividends and sold at the top of the market (after the conversion to TMP shares) you would have made back 27 times your original investment in Morgan & Banks Limited within a six year period.
 
Geoff Morgan and Andrew Banks proved they were very savvy businessmen as well as excellent recruitment agency leaders. The TMP business was subsequently split into two separate companies; a job board business, Monster, and a recruitment business, Hudson Highland (now Hudson).
 

Banks and Morgan subsequently left Hudson during 2002 and reappeared on the recruitment landscape in late 2003 with their new business, Talent 2.

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