Ashurst joins US duo as Axa PE backs French engineering MBO

Ashurst, Latham & Watkins and Weil Gotshal & Manges have all landed roles on the management buyout of French industrial engineering company Fives Group in a deal backed by Axa Private Equity (Axa PE).

The deal, which values the company at around €850m (£544m), has already been announced and signed but is awaiting regulatory approval. It sees Paris-based Axa PE, the buyout group owned by French insurer Axa, and Fives’ management purchase Fives from UK-based private equity group Charterhouse Capital Partners.

Weil advised Axa PE on the deal, with corporate partner David Aknin leading the four-partner team, which also includes takeover specialist Arthur de Baudry d’Asson, corporate partner Alexandre Duguay and finance partner David Malamed.

Weil is a longstanding adviser to Axa PE in France and is regularly retained for M&A and finance advice.

Baker & McKenzie also regularly acts for the group, having most recently advised on its acquisition of a portfolio of 11 private equity fund investments and related unfunded commitments for an estimated $850m (£544m) from the private equity arm of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). Bruno Bertrand, head of Bakers’ Parisian private equity practice group, led on that deal and is one of the firm’s primary relationship partners. Bertrand was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, Latham, which is well known for its track record on LBOs in the Parisian market, advised Fives and its management in the firm’s first deal for the client. The team was led by global finance vice-chair Xavier Farde and global M&A co-chair Thomas Forschbach, alongside tax partner and Paris deputy managing partner Xavier Renard and M&A partner Alexander Benedetti.

Earlier this month Latham was retained to advise Axa PE on its purchase of a 45 per cent stake in virtual conferencing provider Arkadin, with Weil acting as counsel to sellers Apax Partners, Altamir Amboise, Innovation Capital and UFG-Siparex.

On the latest deal, Ashurst advised Charterhouse, with Paris-based corporate partner Nicolas Barberis leading on the buyout and finance partner Diane Sénéchal providing additional advice on particular financing aspects of the deal. Barberis has been advising Charterhouse on the bulk of its deals in France since 2001, with he and Guy Benda acting as the primary relationship partners for the client.

Last year Ashurst and Weil were two of the firms retained to advise on Charterhouse’s $950m acquisition of Environmental Resources Management (ERM) from Bridgepoint Capital in the UK (1 August 2011).

The lawyers are understood to have been working on the Axa PE deal for as much as three months. The deal was particularly partner-heavy due to time constraints, and the management-led nature of the deal resulted in all sides having to come to an agreement with the management on several complex equity and financing aspects. It is due to close in October following regulatory approval.

The deal also comes at a turbulent time in the French economic climate, with financing becoming increasingly difficult.

Weil and Latham’s Paris offices have both turned their attention to the Paris private equity market in recent years, with the firms hiring David Aknin from Linklaters and Forschbach from Ashurst, respectively (13 September 2004).