OpEx Awards 22: EMEA Large-cap winner – Partners Group

With Partners Group’s backing, Cerba HealthCare consolidated its position in the diagnosis market, clocking up 49 acquisitions in four years.

Partners Group acquired clinical pathology laboratory operator Cerba HealthCare in 2017, alongside Canadian pension manager PSP Investments and more than 400 of the healthcare group’s employees, but it had long acknowledged the business’s potential to lead consolidation activity in the European medical diagnosis market and to benefit from underlying sociodemographic and healthcare trends.

The private markets firm developed a value-creation strategy that would align with the goals of Cerba HealthCare’s management team, including a drive to consolidate the company’s position in the French market while expanding globally. Over the course of Partners Group’s four-year investment period, the Paris-headquartered company completed an impressive 49 acquisitions.

This M&A activity was complemented by organic growth initiatives, which ranged from an expansion into the vet services market via the launch of dedicated pathology testing for pets, to digitalisation efforts to improve the patient experience and enhance efficiency. Partners Group also supported the group’s margin improvement programmes, which helped an emerging business unit move towards significant revenue growth.

Sharing a common vision, Partners Group was keen on backing the management team’s decision to build an ESG strategy that would leverage Cerba HealthCare’s historical track record in the development of its staff, while stressing its business ethics and entrepreneurial culture.

To this end, the company kept up with compensation packages to incentivise all the group’s employees, implemented initiatives such as corporate nurseries to recruit and retain parents throughout their careers, and worked hard to attract young talent through a focus on apprenticeships, trainee schemes and partnerships with best-in-class schools and universities.

Another key pillar of the ESG strategy was to broaden access to quality diagnostic services, which is reflected in the company’s efforts to provide services in African markets where access is more limited. For example, in 2019, Cerba HealthCare formed a joint venture with South Africa’s Lancet Laboratories, for which the French Development Agency and the International Finance Corporation provided debt financing.

During the pandemic, Cerba HealthCare could rely on Partners Group’s full back-up in supporting France’s covid mass testing campaign, reallocating resources to PCR testing and assisting in research for vaccines and treatments.

Partners Group exited the company through a sale to EQT last year. During its investment period, both top-line revenues and EBITDA showed solid growth.

The judges applauded Partners Group and Cerba HealthCare for the “well-executed buy-and-build strategy”, as well as for their strong focus on ESG. As one judge commented: “It’s a pleasure to see how ESG initiatives are tracked and rigorously measured, adding value to the business.”

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