Business

A 100-year-old family business, private equity and back to family ownership

A 100-year-plus family business that sold out to private equity a year ago has reverted back to family ownership – albeit under new ownership. The case is a good example of the evolution of the family business model in the 21st century. 

In terms of revenue, BSW Group, the biggest in terms of revenue forestry and sawmill company in the UK, has sold to the Austrian group, Binderholz, in a deal that puts the British company firmly back into family business control. 

Selling the business after less than 18 months of ownership, the BSW deal represents a pretty quick turnaround even by private equity standards

Binderholz is a third-generation owned and managed timber company based in Austria. Founded in 1950 by Franz Binder and run by his grandchildren, Binderholz is a classic Mittelstand business that provides the engine of much of the growth in German-speaking Europe. 

Like many Mittelstand businesses, Binderholz makes a big deal out of its family business ownership culture. It has successfully diversified its business into sustainable timber products and services. Binderholz has also grown globally and has operations in several European countries as well as the US. 

Likewise, BSW also has deep family-owned business roots. Founded in 1848, BSW was owned by the Brownlie family for much of that time. Alexander (Sandy) Brownlie, a fourth-generation family member, took control of the business in the 1960s. He helped turn the company around and was awarded a CBE by the British Queen for services to the industry in 1994. Sadly he died just after the sale of the business to Endless. 

Endless bought BSW in February 2020 and quickly moved to grow revenues through diversification and other efforts – the private equity group said BSW had revenues of more than £650 million at the time of the sale. 

But selling the business after less than 18 months of ownership, the BSW deal represents a pretty quick turnaround even by private equity standards. 

Although the terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, Endless, a no-nonsense private equity group based in the northern English town of Leeds, is likely to have done well out of the quick turnaround of BSW. For Binderholz, the deal helps it to geographically diversify its business and become an even bigger force in the global timber and timber-related sector. 

And for descendants of the Brownlie family, there is probably some comfort knowing that their family’s business is now back in family ownership – even though it’s not their family. 

 

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