Astorg Partners buys Photonis from AXA

AXA and Photonis’ management have agreed to give workers an exceptional bonus in line with Dominique Senequier’s contentious assertion last week that workers should also enjoy the fruits of outsize returns.

Astorg Partners, a French buyout group, is paying around €250 million ($393 million) to AXA Private Equity to acquire Photonis, an international high-technology group specialising in photo sensor technology.

Astorg Partners will become Photonis’s largest shareholder alongside the management team. AXA and Photonis' management have decided that Photonis will pay an exceptional bonus to all employees prior to the end of 2008, as recognition for their contribution to the group’s performance and development.

Dominique Senequier, AXA Private Equity’s managing partner, sparked a debate in a week ago when she told the UK newspaper Financial Times the economic rewards of a buyout should not be restricted to the management team alone. Other market participants said this was up to management and should not be part of a private equity firm’s remit suggesting they could face legal action from fund investors for “giving money away”.

AXA created Photonis in December 2001 through the acquisition of a former subsidiary of Netherlands-based Philips. Five further acquisitions followed: Netherlands-based Delft Electronic Products and US-based Burle Industries in 2005, Antheryon’s business assets in 2006, Netherlands-based Hi-Light Opto Electronics in 2007 and the assets of UK-based Brennel Glass in 2008.

Thierry Timsit, senior vice president of Astorg Partners, said: “We are delighted with this acquisition, which will result in equity stakes for the Photonis management team and many employees.”

Christian Couturier, an Astorg Partners director, said Photonis was now fully equipped to launch an ambitious acquisition strategy to become the number one European independent in optical-electronic defence components while boosting its presence in civil applications.

ING Bank has been nominated global arranger and agent for all bank finance arising from the transaction.

AXA Private Equity has appointed BNP Paribas Corporate Finance as exclusive M&A advisor for this transaction, which remains subject to the approval of several countries’ administrative authorities including anti-trust authorities.