Building a global information services company
By Jim Casella
When I left Reed Business Information in January 2007, I had a plan. I wanted to build an integrated professional information services company with a strong, single-market focus. I believed the capability to create deeper and richer business intelligence and analytics—combined with marketing services opportunities—made a single-market focus a more attractive option than a media company serving a variety of unrelated markets.
At the start, I met with many private equity teams to determine which one would be the best fit. I understood that securing the capital commitment from a private equity fund was just the first step in a process that would be at least a five-year commitment. You need to choose your partner carefully to ensure a successful outcome.
In this selection process I looked for a track record of success from a private equity partner. I also checked references, because you know the private equity funds will be doing the same on you. In the end I decided to partner with Austin Ventures' Growth Equity team. In talking with the CEOs of Austin Ventures' existing portfolio companies, I found they were very positive. I also thought it was attractive that Austin Ventures did not overleverage its deals; this fact would allow me to sleep at night!
In March 2007, Austin Ventures and I established a holding company, Case Interactive Media; opened an office; and began the search for a platform company. We looked at potential acqusitions in the energy, healthcare, information technology, institutional finance and legal, and marketing services sectors.
We built market maps for each vertical and then talked with investment bankers to determine what companies might be coming to market. In early spring 2008, we narrowed our focus to institutional finance and legal. Unfortunately, this was just about the time that Bear Stearns was having severe trouble. The crisis accelerated over the summer with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the credit markets went into a deep freeze.
It was clear that we were looking to place a contrary bet. We knew that some of the great fortunes were built during difficult times, when someone with cash could buy while others were sidelined. We also believed that the financial markets would recover and, when they did, we would be well-positioned.
Our first acquisition was Asset International, a deal that closed in December 2008. We found the company's brands, Plan Sponsor and Plan Adviser, to be demographically attractive with their focus on the retirement part of the market. We also saw the opportunity to move much more quickly on the digital front with additional capital.
While Asset International was headquartered in Stamford, Conn., one of the company's core brands, Global Custodian, was based in London. This was important, because we wanted to build our platform around the two large global money centers: New York and London. Having a global platform was important to me, and I think it should be increasingly important to many more b-to-b media brands. It takes capital; but, based on my years at IDG, I knew that “geocloning” brands was the right approach. After all, IDG's Computerworld thrives in scores of countries.
While first quarter 2009 was one of the worst periods in recent memory, we set about building our company for the long term. Later that spring, we completed the acquisition of The Trade. Based in London, The Trade had a focus on Europe and the Asia/Pacific region. For Asset International, we always wanted a balance between marketing vehicles and data and analytics products. In spring 2009 we began the acquisition process for Strategic Insight, a company that provides the mutual fund industry with business intelligence analytics and advisory services. We opened a London office, followed by one in Hong Kong. We expanded Strategic Insight's global footprint with the acquisition of Plan for Life in Australia early this year. Today, more than 50% of our business is data and analytics.
Overall, our revenue has more than doubled in the past two years, and we are preparing to launch Philanthropy Management early in 2012 with a team based both in London and New York. Additionally, we will also be bringing The Trade to the U.S. market in 2012.
Jim Casella is chairman-CEO of Asset International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.