On August 5, 2021, thebigword Group (TBW) announced that investment firm Susquehanna Private Capital had acquired a majority stake in the UK-based language service provider (LSP). The transaction closed on August 4, 2021.
Founded in 1980 by Larry Gould, the Leeds-headquartered company grew to become one of the largest privately and family-owned LSPs globally. Gould led the company as CEO for several decades before transitioning into the role of Group Executive Chairman in 2018. Gould’s son, Joshua Gould, took up the position of Group CEO in 2019.
Joshua Gould told Slator he and his father will “retain a significant minority shareholding in the business,” although the terms, including the percentage stake acquired by SPC, the sale price, and the valuation remain undisclosed.
Asked about TBW’s revenue forecast for 2021, Joshua Gould declined to share specifics but said they are “experiencing solid revenue growth this year.” For reference, TBW hit revenues of around GBP 85m (USD 107m) in the 12 months to May 2019. TBW later switched to calendar-year reporting and has yet to file its full-year 2020 accounts.
However, regulatory filings from March 2020 show the LSP generating GBP 51m in the seven months from June to December 2019 (EBITDA for the same period was GBP 2m), making TBW one of the largest UK-based LSPs by revenue.
TBW is a major provider of public sector translation and interpreting services. Its clients include NATO members, as well as the US and UK governments. Joshua Gould said, “thebigword has [had] one of its best years in terms of contract wins, many of which will be implemented towards the end of 2021.”
In early 2021, the LSP secured a three-year extension to its interpreting contract with the UK Ministry of Justice, valued anywhere from USD 150m to 300m.
Meet the New Owners
After 41 years under Gould-family ownership, Joshua Gould said TBW was “looking for a partner that could deploy patient, operator-friendly capital, as well as a partner that understood our client base and what it takes to develop market-leading technology.” Susquehanna Private Capital (SPC) ticked all the boxes.
SPC is funded by the founders of Susquehanna International Group, LLP, a privately-held financial services firm based in the US. Founded in 2016, SPC focuses on companies in the US and Europe in the areas of business services, consumer and franchise services, healthcare services, and industrial technology. According to the SPC website, their current portfolio consists of eight companies in addition to TBW.
Joshua Gould told Slator the substantial capital backing from SPC will enable TBW to “continue to invest in and grow our WordSynk ecosystem.” WordSynk is a translation and interpreting management system launched in 2020 and described as an “all-in-one localization platform.”
As for WordSynk’s progress in 2021, the CEO said it currently serves more than 50,000 active users and there is around “USD 100m in revenue going through our platform.” He added that they expect significant growth from the Public Sector, as well as the Healthcare, Finance, Technology, Manufacturing, Life Sciences, Hospitality, and Retail sectors.
Not only was WordSynk a key rationale for the acquisition, but the platform seemingly also had a hand in helping the process unfold. According to Gould, as well as visiting various TBW locations, “SPC also used the WordSynk Video Remote Interpreting system to speak to our workforce as part of the due diligence process.”
As for the future of an SPC-backed thebigword, Gould said “there will be no foreseeable changes to our current leadership.” Moreover, “SPC will use thebigword as a platform and fully support the management team to deliver growth through both M&A and organic growth.”
TBW may well focus their growth and M&A activities outside the LSP’s home country. Gould said plans include further expanding their presence in Europe; and they have set their sights on becoming “a force to be reckoned with in the US and Asia.”