Private Equity Concern Acquires Search Firm

December 23, 2016 – Executive search firm Sonoma Consulting, Inc. has been acquired by Chicago-based private equity firm Highlands Ventures. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

With offices in Naperville, Chicago, Tyson’s Corner, and Hyderabad, India, Sonoma Consulting serves over 100 national and international companies. Its clients range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies globally. Its business is comprised of two divisions focused on consulting services and executive search, and provides candidates which range from CIOs, CTOs and programmers to business analysts.

Strategic Fit

Highland Ventures said that Sonoma Consulting will increase the global presence of recruitment company Halo Group, enabling it to accelerate growth and more efficiently serve its global customers. Halo is Highland Ventures’ technology focused recruitment subsidiary.

“We identified Sonoma as a strategic fit for Halo Group given the scale, diversity, and quality of its customer base,” said Brent Rasmussen, managing partner of Highlands Ventures and chief executive officer of Halo Group. “This acquisition elevates Halo Group into a global competitor with a strong international portfolio of consultants and customers. We are excited about this next stage in the company’s growth.”

Mark McGee, president and CEO of Sonoma Consulting, said: “This deal builds upon the vision we had for Sonoma from the start, and we look forward to working together to make Halo Group one of the fastest growing international IT consulting firms.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. McGee will serve as president of Halo Group. He will also serve as a board member of Highlands Ventures. Mr. McGee has functioned for over 23 years in senior leadership roles with technology companies. He formerly founded BlueSuit Consulting which was later acquired by Harvey Nash.

Highlands Ventures is a private equity firm specializing in the high-end IT talent market. Its portfolio includes small to mid-sized companies in the IT talent space.

Private Equity and Executive Search

Private equity concerns have been taking notice of executive search firms in recent months.

Just recently, New Heritage Capital, a Boston-based private equity firm, made a significant investment The Execu | Search Group. Under terms of the deal, Execu | Search will retain operational control, and the existing management team will remain in place. The firm says the goal of the partnership is to continue to provide its clients with industry leading services on an even broader scale with a more diverse and innovative mix of service offerings. The funding will allow for more investment in these areas.

U.K.-headquartered executive recruiter Norman Broadbent raised more than $3 million from new and existing equity investors to fuel future growth plans. The investment comes from a range of high profile investors, including Miton and City Financial Investment. Backing was also secured from existing investors, including Jon Moulton (a substantial shareholder of the firm), Downing LLP and Ennismore Fund Management. The firm’s investment plans include strengthening the core Norman Broadbent executive search business.

SmartRecruiters recently raised $30 million in series C financing, led by New York-based venture capital and private equity firm Insight Venture Partners. The company plans to leverage the additional capital to sustain its rapid growth, accelerate its global market presence, and continue to invest in its product footprint to serve the needs of enterprise companies.

Executive search firm Elliot Group just entered into a strategic investment agreement with Steve Lockton, executive vice president and owner at the Lockton Companies, a privately held insurance broker and risk management consulting firm. Under terms of the agreement, Mr. Lockton has made an undisclosed equity investment in Elliot to further advance both firm’s ability to leverage existing business and create new opportunities in the global marketplace.

U.K.-based executive search firm The Up Group secured investment from mid-market private equity firm Livingbridge as the recruiting firm targets further domestic and international growth. With demand for its services growing, Up Group is planning to use the funding to strengthen its delivery capacity, as well as expand its international footprint. It will take some of the investment capital to accelerate its ‘Digital Masters’ program, which brings together industry leaders throughout the year at a variety of exclusive networking events.

ZRG Partners completed a private equity fund raise nearly two years ago. According to the firm’s CEO, Larry Hartmann, the funding “provided fuel and capital to now safely execute our long term growth strategy.”

Tim McHugh, a partner and global services analyst for Chicago-based William Blair & Co., said executive search firms are “capital efficient businesses,” which makes them attractive to investors. He said the search sector also happens to be at a cross-roads where expansion into ancillary sectors, like leadership consulting, is opening up room for growth “and an opportunity to develop more consistent, deeper relationships with clients.” The biggest risk to investors, he said, is appropriately identifying the value of the firm versus the importance of the individuals at the firm.

“We see solid growth opportunities for mid-sized search firms that are big enough to service global clients and expand their solutions, but are not yet meaningfully held back by off-limits issues,” he added.

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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