The words “prepress” and “consolidation” are intrinsically linked, but the latest megabucks deal will put many in the shade. It combines two of the industry’s largest players — Artwork Systems Group NV and Esko-Graphics A/S — into a group with combined sales of €180 million (US$243 million), based on estimated 2007 revenues. The former rivals happen to be headquartered in Gent, Belgium, with both serving niche prepress markets in the packaging and commercial printing sectors. Each has an extensive presence in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific, giving a combined workforce of more than 1,000 employees.
The deal was put together by Axcel, Esko’s controlling shareholder and Denmark’s largest private equity group. It follows the sale by Artwork’s three founders and principal shareholders — Guido Van der Schueren, Peter Denoo and Bart Denoo — of 13 million-plus shares at €11.50 (US$15.50) each for cash. At the time of the announcement in early August, this represented a near 77 percent majority stake, valuing Artwork at €196 million (US$264 million). A mandatory public offer is underway for all of the remaining Artwork shares at €11.50 each. Assuming it eventually acquires 95 percent of the share capital, Esko will launch a buyout offer.
Carsten Knudsen, currently Esko’s CEO and future CEO of the combined group, says the merger represents a significant consolidation, especially in the packaging segment. It bundles the expertise, products and customer networks of both companies. “Our attention now goes first and foremost to protect our respective customers’ investments in our solutions, and to work closely with them to respond to their future requirements.”
Guido Van der Schueren, Artwork’s chairman, will become chief commercial officer. From the 1990s he guided the group’s growth, which includes offices in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the UK, and USA, plus support structures in other countries. Products include ArtPro, Nexus and Odystar prepress/workflow systems, Enfocus preflighting software, and CAD software. It plans to launch a label version of its Nexus-Odystar system at Labelexpo. During fiscal 2006, Artwork’s turnover was €46.48 million (US$62.65 million).
Esko was formed following the absorption of Purup-Eskofot and Barco Graphics. Products include packaging preproduction systems, CAD software, Cyrel Digital Imagers for flexo plates and sleeves, and Kongsberg cutting and creasing tables. It has more than 700 employees worldwide, with R&D and manufacturing facilities located in Belgium, Germany, Norway, the UK, USA, and the Czech Republic. Esko has regional sales and support organizations throughout Europe, North America and the Asia/Pacific region, including Japan and China. For the year 2006, Esko’s revenues reached €127 million (US$171 million).