Government clears way for Canadian private equity giant to buy major slice of Morson

Ged Mason

Onex, one of the biggest private equity investors in Canada has taken a majority stake in Salford-based Morson, the specialist recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) business with strong presence in the defence industry. 

A year after chief executive Ged Mason achieved a lifelong goal of hitting £1billion of annual revenue, Onex announced a majority investment in Morson Group yesterday (5 February 2024) through its $7.2billion fund Onex Partners V.

The deal was agreed three months ago but has been awaiting clearance under the National Security and Investment Act of 2021, which was designed to protect against national security risks arising from the acquisition of UK companies operating in defence and strategically important sectors.

Though financial terms were not disclosed, and an Onex spokesperson told that the company “won’t be commenting beyond what is in the news release”, research by Grant Thornton’s M&A team in 2021 estimated multiples of EBITDA in the staffing and recruiting sector of no less than 7x earnings, and some hitting as high as 14x.

Morson last posted annual results showing pre-tax profits of £32.6m, and adjusted EBITDA of £45.1m on turnover of £1.2billion to the year ending 31 December 2022. The group has made a steady series of acquisitions in recent years including InterQuest Group and Astraeus Consulting from Berkhamsted-based parent company, Albany Beck Holdings in 2023, and Australian group ACRWORLD in April 2022.

Morson was started by Ged Mason’s father Gerry in 1969 and floated on AIM in 2005. After a few years of being under valued and unloved, despite the serious acquisition of Wynwith Group in 2010, Mason and his father took Morson private in 2012 in a deal valuing the group at £23m.

A source close to the process told that Onex made the first move, which may have aligned with Ged Mason’s own personal timetable as he approached his 60th birthday. “It’s a great deal both for Morson and for its shareholders and for Onex too – they approached Morson last summer and as his 60th birthday was approaching, Ged decided it may be time for the business to take the next step.”

Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson in Bahrain

Mason, who was awarded an OBE for services to engineering and design in 2016, is also a co-owner of Sale Sharks rugby club and owns several racehorses with Sir Alex Ferguson including Spirit Dancer, the winner of the  $1 million Bahrain International Trophy in 2023. He is a generous supporter of charities and skills initiatives, especially in Salford, where he supports the STEM centre at Salford University.

He is to stay on in the business as chief executive, and says in Onex he has found “a true partner”.

Founded by Gerry Schwartz in 1984 Onex has C$48.4 billion under management, and in the UK Onex Partners also own educational publication TES, formerly the Times Educational Supplement, which it describes as “the leading provider of recruitment services to the UK education sector and an international provider of education software solutions”.

Mason said: “We have found a true partner in Onex, and a team whose values are aligned with ours. Onex shares our vision. It has an impressive track record of helping companies to grow and we are confident about the contribution our new partner will make to achieving our goals.”

In the 2023 annual report Morson states that it employs an average of 2,184 people a month and works across sectors such as aerospace, defence, IT and technology, rail, marine, nuclear, multi-disciplined engineering, professional services, construction, and manufacturing.

“Morson’s ability to deploy unique sector knowledge and innovative solutions to its clients in highly resilient sectors of the economy is unique. We are attracted by its growth profile, corporate culture and multiple opportunities for value creation going forward,” said Nigel Wright, co-head of Onex Partners. 

Adrien Faure, a managing director of Onex Partners, added: “Morson is an excellent business and a leader with pedigree in its core markets. The investment aligns with our theme of investing in businesses that help to solve the need for technical and specialist skills alongside the best management teams. It builds on our track record in the broader human capital management sector.”

Legal advisers to Morson were Stephen Chadwick and Angeliki Kotsidou at Beyond Corporate; financial advice was provided by long standing Morson advisor Matt Davies from Spark. Deloitte in London and Clifford Chance acted for Onex.

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