Williams Lea Tag Says Good-Bye DHL in Private Equity Carve-Out

Boston-based private equity giant Advent International is set to acquire business process outsourcing and marketing supply chain services firm Williams Lea Tag from its parent company Deutsche Post DHL. Speculation about a potential sale had been circulating ever since William Lea’s then CEO left in February 2017.

Advent, one of the largest private equity firms with over USD 40bn in assets under management, reportedly paid Deutsche Post DHL between USD 450m-500m for UK-based Williams Lea Tag. Deutsche Post had acquired an initial 75% stake in Williams Lea in 2006. In 2011, Williams Lea proceeded to acquire marketing solutions provider Tag.

Williams Lea Tag currently employs over 10,000 people in more than 40 countries and generated USD 1.7bn in revenues in 2014 (the last year Deutsche Post broke out separate figures for the business).

The company’s offering evolved from its roots as a financial printer to cover much of the document management supply chain including print management and packaging, customer communications and publishing, and document workflow (document processing, back-office and admin support etc.).

Under its Creative Production umbrella, Williams Lea Tag offers global marketing services that include “transcreation, adaptation and localisation,” competing with language service providers (LSPs), which are keen to expand their marketing offering beyond translation. In the marketing logistics space, the company also competes with WPP’s Hogarth or Publicis-owned Prodigious, which in mid 2017 acquired London-based LSP translateplus.

LSPs encounter Williams Lea Tag in other verticals too. For example, investment banks would outsource certain mailroom functions and presentation layout teams to Williams Lea Tag. Presentation teams are in charge of formatting and layouting thousands of “pitch books” each month, some of which require highly specialized financial translation.

The deal has the potential to impact the language services industry should Advent decide to expand more aggressively into the translation and localization space, potentially funding a few acquisitions to jump-start growth.

With the deal, Williams Lea Tag joins Pactera, which is considering an IPO, on the list of dark horses that possess enough financial firepower and strategic rationale to buy a large LSP.