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SIACI courted by Aon, not for sale

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Aon is reported to have made an offer to acquire French broker SIACI Saint Honoré (SSH). SSH caters to the needs of corporations and SMBs.

Since 2015, SSH is controlled by venture capital firm Ardian which owns 57% of the firm. Managers control a further 23% and Edmond de Rothschild 20%.

SSH chairman Pierre Donnersberg in late April 2018 denied any plans to sell. Instead, SSH is looking to expand by external growth to create a large European player competing with “anglo-saxon” firms.

It appears that President Trump’s hostile rhetoric and Britain’s anti-European Brexit decision have made some Continental European business leaders wary of “selling out” to U.S. or UK firms.

It should be noted that divestments by VCs are inevitable, at the latest when the fund that invested in the firm lapses; and that investment/ divestment decisions are made by investors (in this case, Ardian) not investees or their leadership. However, the Donnersberg family being one of the former owners of SSH/ASH, they may have retained some power of veto over a potential disposal.

Aon France, which must have been instrumental in Aon’s purported move, is led by Robert Leblanc, who as SIACI’s CEO from 1998 successfully transformed the company into the French market leader until it was sold in 2007 by its then-owner JLT to Assurances & Conseils Saint-Honoré (ACSH). Aon France therefore knows SIACI well and should be able to perform any post-merger integration speedily and efficiently.

In summary, a deal would make a lot of sense for Aon but SSH’s management is unlikely to support a sale. The decision rests with controlling shareholder Ardian – there is a price where an investment manager would commit a breach of duty to its investors if it did not accept…

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