Thinking ahead from the core

Mergers and acquisitions: Head and heart

'When we advise on mergers and acquisitions, we do so based on the core of a client relationship,' says Willem Boezen, Global Head of Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A). 'We sit down with a company's CEO or owner and discuss their ambitions, outline potential alternatives and consequences and give advice.'

'When people ask my six-year-old daughter what her dad does for a living, she says I talk all day,' says Boezen with a smile. 'I personally see my main responsibility as: serving clients' interests. This above all entails being a good listener, thinking ahead, outlining scenarios and offering solutions. We’re only happy with the outcome of a transaction when the client is too.'

New field

Willem Boezen has been responsible for the global industrial sector for a number of years. He moved in 2012 to Rabobank, which focuses on clients in all sectors in the Netherlands, but concentrates almost exclusively on food and agri internationally. 'While this was a new field for me, the food and agri sector has tremendous appeal. I strongly relied on the knowledge of our specialists and soon discovered that Rabobank has unique relationships, vast sector knowledge and a large international network.'

Dynamic playing field

What are the main differences between industry and agriculture? 'The food and agri sector is a more dynamic field than many people think. You bank on truly global trends. So this doesn’t only involve dynamic economic developments and fluctuating commodity prices. Themes such as a growing middle class, sustainability, innovation and the global food issue also have a major impact on the sector. And I can tell you from experience that it is less exciting at most steel plants.'

15 nationalities at 1 location

Rabobank is active in more than 40 countries. The bank's M&A team encompasses some 85 M&A professionals worldwide. Over the past three years alone they have advised clients on transactions in 33 countries, including Thailand, Brazil, the United States, Australia and, of course, the Netherlands. 'When your activities are dispersed across such a wide area, it's important to have a team that is equally diverse. It's simply a fact that we can provide a French client with much better service relating to a transaction when we also have French professionals on our team. We have 15 different nationalities working at our offices in Utrecht and 24 nationalities working worldwide. They understand the country, the culture and the etiquette in negotiations. This avoids a lot of miscommunications. As a result we're almost immediately on the same wavelength as the client.'

Client value versus dollars

Some media reports suggest that Boezen was involved in transactions representing a total value of more than 15 billion euros in 2013. But statistics like that don't matter much to him. 'It all comes down to client value, not just euros or dollars. We aim to act on signals and ambitions we pick up from our clients. Clients don't usually turn to us directly with a request for an acquisition. Our relationship bankers use their eyes and ears in the conversations they have with clients. Our radar has to switch on the second a challenge, change of strategy or ambition for the future comes up in a conversation.'

Uncertain or courageous?

Boezen gives an example: 'I was recently in Brazil, a country that is struggling with high inflation, economic contraction and political uncertainty. You would in principle expect companies to be uncertain and take a wait-and-see attitude during such tumultuous times. But I spoke with the CEO of a company there who sees this as the perfect time to pursue growth in Asia. He sees opportunities where others see problems, but is held back by a lack of distribution and financing possibilities. When he brought up this challenge, we had a good conversation about concrete alternatives in the Far East and about strengthening capital.'

Strong emotions

Is there a correlation between the size of a transaction and the complexity? 'No,' says Boezen. 'Deals involving billions are generally decided on the basis of rational and business grounds. Accountability has to be rendered to shareholders and emotions often play a more subordinate role. There can be greater complexities when the acquisition of a family-owned company is involved. But it is also our task with respect to these transactions to weigh up the interests properly. Sometimes a family is parting with a company that has been built up over generations, so that obviously evokes strong emotions. While the adviser is involved, he or she always remains a relative outsider. We can add real value at times like that.'

What does Rabobank do in the field of mergers and acquisitions?

Some 85 M&A professionals work in Rabobank's Corporate Finance Advisory – M&A department worldwide. They provide advice in the field of mergers and acquisitions and support with IPOs.

Most of the transactions supported by the bank have a strong international character. The department provides advice to clients in all sectors in the Netherlands, including the construction, industrial, trade and services, energy and technology sectors. The department’s focus outside the Netherlands is on the consumer and food & agri sectors. Corporate Finance Advisory has teams in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, the United States, Brazil, India, Singapore, Canada and China.

A few recent feats: The sale of a minority stake in Hendrix Genetics to NPM Capital, the acquisition of Russian poultry activities by the Thai company CP Foods, the sale of Dutch mail order company Wehkamp to private equity company Apax, the acquisition of the Brazilian company Nova Agri by the Japanese Toyota Tsusho group, the acquisition of the Czech activities of supermarket chain SPAR by Ahold, the sale of the Indonesian company Poliplant Group to Cargill and the IPO of the quintessentially Dutch distilled spirits company Lucas Bols.