In November 2013, EPSA wanted to carry out a first LBO to accelerate its growth. Initiative & Finance was a candidate and featured among the finalists.
This was the first encounter between Matthieu Gufflet, the EPSA group’s founding president, and Jean-Michel Laveu, partner at Initiative & Finance, who decided to stay in touch. “In 2016, we launched a new LBO to develop new service lines, and we wanted Initiative & Finance to bid,” remembers Matthieu Gufflet. “The adventure began in July 2017. They acquired a stake alongside historic fund Capelia, who had supported us since 2008, to become the leading fund among our backers.”
First of all, EPSA and Initiative & Finance thought about the company’s overall strategy and the possibilities for evolution in its international and digital dimensions. The first step was to continue to structure the company, strengthen its support functions, and set up financial reporting.
Soon, the ambition became to accelerate build-ups. Around ten operations were completed between 2017 and 2019. “We were looking for small external growth opportunities and we told EPSA about the opportunities we found,” remembers Jean-Michel Laveu. “Consultancy is a highly fragmented sector, with lots of hard-to-identify companies with revenues of less than €5 million. With EPSA, we decided on what we call industrial LBO formats. We offer companies the chance to carry out an LBO with us: we take 40 to 50% of the business, which keeps its brand, its autonomy and its freedom, and we offer them the benefits of our customer address book.”
Matthieu Gufflet was satisfied with the “stage-by-stage acquisition model”, which allowed EPSA to enjoy strong development with the support of Initiative & Finance, growing by 94% between 2017 and 2019.
After a number of minor add-on acquisitions, EPSA and Initiative & Finance are embarking upon a larger deal in Germany, with the takeover of PSG, a spin-off of a group specializing in outsourcing. “This is our first major acquisition abroad,” says Jean-Michel Laveu. The Raise fund, which has held a stake in the firm since 2019, is also assisting EPSA with this larger operation.
“This deal will be decisive in shaping our international presence. All of a sudden, we will have 30% of our revenues coming from abroad,” says Matthieu Gufflet. Another step forward that the EPSA group will have to take in order to “allow all our new acquisitions to benefit from the group effect”, not to mention the twenty or so employees recruited each month by EPSA, which is seeking to attract the best talents while limiting staff turnover.
Initiative & Finance began its withdrawal from EPSA in 2019, arguing that “the company has developed more quickly than anticipated.” “However, convinced that the development plan was not yet finished, we decided to reinvest and remain shareholders, no longer as leaders but as followers [alongside the Raise and Capelia funds],” explains Jean-Michel Laveu. The next stage is preparing for a “pretty huge operation” in 2022.
Founder and President, EPSA
“Since we first met back in 2013, we have always appreciated Initiative & Finance’s entrepreneurial approach. We don’t look for investment funds just to share reports with us and hold monitoring committees… A fund has to be there in good times as well as bad. Initiative & Finance has shown a great understanding of what we are doing and helps us to do it even better. We have a close, seamless, professional relationship, and we know that we can count on their support in the most difficult periods. The whole package makes sense and explains why the value of our company has grown fivefold in two years!”
Initiative & Finance’s value added lies in providing made-to-measure support for SMEs. “The most important thing is to build a simple relationship, not too formal or regimented, and to be there to do your bit and answer the management’s questions about the structuring of the company,” says Jean-Michel Laveu. “With EPSA, we are in a period of hypergrowth, which is great, though a lot of management is required if that growth is to be sustainable.”
Since Initiative & Finance’s arrival in 2017, EPSA has doubled in size each year, moving from very-small-enterprise to middle-market status. It was voted “most over-performing middle-market firm of the year 2019”, in light of its steady growth across all its business lines.
Partner, Initiative & Finance
“When you team up with an entrepreneur, you have to have a shared project. The advantage of this deal is that we had known Matthieu Gufflet for five years. That created an environment where we were quickly able to approve the ambitious internal and external growth strategy they were proposing. There is nothing worse for a business than skeptical investors who dig their heels in. We are in the habit of going quickly, very quickly, and it is important to adhere to that approach.
This success story is first and foremost a story about people, and the visionary Matthieu Gufflet has assembled quite a varied team around him, including internal personnel as well as people from the external companies acquired along the way. We are proud to support a rapidly developing business that acts as a real growth accelerator for all the companies that join it.”