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Exponent gets on board with $340m Big Bus Tours deal

The deal follows news earlier this month that Exponent will close its third fund on its £1bn hard-cap

UK-based Exponent Private Equity has agreed to acquire global sightseeing bus tour operator Big Bus Tours, according to a statement from the firm.

The deal valued the bus tour operator at $340 million, according to a source with knowledge of the transaction.

Exponent did not disclose financial details and declined to comment on the transaction beyond the statement.

Headquartered in the UK, Big Bus Tours provides sightseeing bus tours on its open-topped buses in 16 cities across Europe, the US and Asia, including Istanbul, Shanghai and New York. The company, formed in 2011 through the merger of UK-based The Big Bus Company (TBBC) and Paris-based Les Cars Rouges, both family-owned, has a combined fleet of more than 300 buses which carry more than four million passengers per year, Exponent said.

Exponent is understood to be acquiring a majority stake, investing alongside the company’s management team and existing shareholders, which include the Maybury family, which founded TBBC in 1991.

Abu Dhabi-based Al Fahim Group acquired a 30 percent stake in TBBC in 2007. It is unclear whether the group will remain a shareholder following Exponent’s investment. Al Fahim did not respond to a request for comment at press time.

In October last year Reuters reported that Big Bus Tours had hired JPMorgan to find a buyer in a deal that could have valued the tour company at up to £500 million (€682 million; $772 million). Subsequent media reports linked European buyout house Permira, Advent International and Omers Private Equity to the deal, along with Exponent.

It is unclear which investment vehicle Exponent will use to acquire Big Bus Tours. Earlier this month the firm was eyeing a £1 billion (€1.34 billion; $1.52 billion) final close for its third fund, which is oversubscribed, PEI reported earlier. At the time Exponent was processing the commitments ahead of the fund close.

Exponent typically invests in UK-based businesses with an enterprise value of between £75 million (€91 million, $125 million) and £350 million (€477 million; $540 million).

In early February Exponent listed HSS Hire Group on the London Stock Exchange, having acquired the business in 2012. In January the firm sold Trainline, a UK-based online rail ticket retailer, to KKR for between £425 million and £450 million (€588 million; $683 million). Last October the firm also sold Gorkana Group to Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR for around £200 million (€273 million; $309 million), PEI reported at the time.