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Sunday Business Post (Ireland): Shell deal marks Ion’s arrival

Sunday Business Post (Ireland): Shell deal marks Ion’s arrival

“The deal sees Topaz take over a business with turnover of more than €1 billion. It comprises Shell’s six oil importation facilities, 35 local distribution depots, 55 retail service stations and the supply of products to 105 independently-owned service stations.”

Sunday 17 July 2005

By Gavin Daly

The purchase of the retail and commercial business of Shell by a consortium led by Ion Equity marks the arrival in the big time of the corporate finance house founded in 2000.

Neil O’Leary and Joe Devine, the founders of Ion, identified the deal, formed the Topaz consortium that included Emo Oil and took “a chunk’‘ of the equity in the firm, according to industry sources.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, and O’Leary could not be contacted for comment.

The deal sees Topaz take over a business with turnover of more than €1 billion. It comprises Shell’s six oil importation facilities, 35 local distribution depots, 55 retail service stations and the supply of products to 105 independently-owned service stations.

A relative minnow in the corporate finance sector, Ion has proved willing to take risks. Despite launching just as the technology downturn hit, it made its money and reputation by raising money for a range of private technology firms in difficult markets.

It also has stakes in technology firms including Corvil and Similarity Systems.

Ion made headlines in 2002 when it put together a consortium to buy Usit, the troubled travel firm. It bought a third of the company for €2.5 million and made its money back in eight months. “If it was an easy deal, someone else would have done it,” O’Leary said at the time.

Usit quickly returned to profitability after the deal, and, earlier this year, sold three of its hostels for more than €20 million.

Ion also has stakes in eNet, the private firm building a national broadband network, and in facilities management firm Vector. It has also opened a London office and has advised on funding and merger and acquisition deals in Britain, Germany and Israel. Last year, O’Leary told The Sunday Business Post that Ion had advised on about 30 deals worth more than €300 million since its foundation. Its deal-flow has remained strong: it recently made about $1 million in fees after advising a British firm on a $21 million funding.

O’Leary and Devine are the major shareholders in Ion, and some staff, including director Ulric Kenny, also have stakes.

Industry sources said that the Shell deal would make larger advisory firms sit up and take notice of Ion.

“We are not afraid to take calculated risks and borrow money to back our judgment,” O’Leary said last year. Last week’s purchase of Shell, which he described in a statement as “a unique opportunity to acquire a premium business with huge potential’‘, bears that out.

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