Weil Gotshal consolidates Hicks Muse relationship

Weil Gotshal & Manges‘ London office has put paid to speculation that it is fighting to keep hold of key private equity client Hicks Muse Tate & Furst. The firm is advising Premier, a portfolio company owned by Hicks Muse, on its acquisition of Nestlé UK’s £100m ambient food businesses, comprising brands such as Branston Pickle and Sun Pat.
Weil Gotshal’s relationship with the client was thrown into question last June when the firm’s only UK-qualified banking partner Helen Burton left. This meant that the London office had virtually no debt finance capability with which to start the US private equity house.
However, this latest deal suggests that Hicks Muse is happy to stick with the firm it knows. Weil Gotshal managing partner Mike Francies handled the ambient foods deal and the corporate work on the Yell transaction. The ambient foods acquisition is a predominantly corporate deal, but Weil Gotshal partners also handled the finance side.
Since Burton left, the firm has promoted UK banking associate Richard Ginsburg to partner and hired Latham & Watkins UK-qualified banking partner Chris Harrison. Ginsburg also worked on the ambient foods deal.
A flotation of Yell has been mooted in the press. Mike Francies said that, if it goes ahead, he is confident that Weil Gotshal will win the main role as Yell’s adviser. “If that happens, we’d be disappointed if we didn’t get it,” he said.
CMS Cameron McKenna is advising Nestlé UK on the disposal of the ambient businesses. Camerons has now advised Nestlé on all three of its headline deals in the last 12 months: Nestlé UK used Camerons on its £145m acquisition of the Ski yoghurt and Munch Bunch fromage frais brands, as well as on its sale of Foxes Glacier Mints.
Guy Billington, the Camerons partner who handles the corporate department’s dealings with Nestlé UK, said that the relationship had grown stronger over the last 18 months.
“We’re at the point where Nestlé UK uses us as an extension of its in-house legal team,” he said.
Camerons was brought in at the beginning of the deal, and then at the end of the auction process, when Premier had submitted a pre-emptive bid and had it accepted.
Adrian Whitehead, who heads up the in-house commercial team at Nestlé UK, said that the pre-emptive bid was where things became particularly interesting for his group. “We were really hammering out the details of the agreements after the pre-emptive bid was accepted,” he said.
Camerons and Weil Gotshal are also advising Corin Group and Beeson Gregory respectively on Corin’s initial public offering.