Belfast Telegraph

Dunmurry firm's owner on the market

Survitec sale is latest deal involving major manufacturers here

By Margaret Canning

A global manufacturer of survival equipment employing around 250 people in Belfast is being prepared for sale, according to reports.

Survitec – which owns a business known as RFD Beaufort in Dunmurry – is being readied for the market by its private equity owners Warburg Pincus.

No one at Survitec in Dunmurry was available for comment yesterday on what could become the latest of a string of big manufacturing deals in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this year Whale Systems in Bangor, Co Down, was sold to Brunswick Corporation in the US, while Schrader in Antrim has also been sold to Schrader.

But while the private equity owners of Schrader chose to sell to a manufacturer, corporate lawyer John-George Willis said Survitec would likely be acquired by another private equity entity.

Mr Willis, head of the corporate department at law firm Tughans, said there had been a reduction in the money available for big private equity deals during the downturn.

But there was now more bank finance for such deals.

And he said multiples of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) were also increasing gradually.

"This year we have seen a small increase in the multiple that can be achieved in some sectors, especially in the case of small manufacturing companies."

Mr Willis said RFD was a "fantastic" business with products that were used worldwide.

The firm had made survival suits for the Royal Air Force, as well as other air forces throughout the world.

But he added: "They are a company that tends to keep its light under a bushel."

It has passed through a number of private equity owners, including Alchemy and Montagu.

He said it had flourished under Warburg Pincus, with "bolt-on acquisitions" resulting in successful assimilation into the larger business.

In November last year, the group acquired Brude Safety AS in Norway from the Kopperneas Group.

The company started out as one of the first makers of life rafts but has grown into a major concern, employing around 1,100 people.

According to the Daily Telegraph, it could fetch as much as £500m – a substantial gain for Warburg Pincus, which paid just £280m for Survitec four years ago in 2010.

In March 2012, Survitec announced a deal supplying immersion suits for use on submarines to the Royal Canadian Navy.

The business pioneered the development of submarine escape technology in 1952,

In January 2012, the Dunmurry plant was described as the company's 'jewel in the crown' by then chief executive Doug Baxter.

Dunmurry is one of the two joint headquarters of the firm, along with Birkenhead in England.

It has won a string of awards, including the Queens Award for Innovation in 2012, and a gong in the Manufacturing Excellence wards in 2011.

Belfast Telegraph