Paul Holmes 12 Jul 2017 // 12:00PM GMT
WASHINGTON, DC—APCO Worldwide has reaffirmed its commitment to moving forward as an independent, thanks to a buyout of existing minority shareholder WindRiver with support from longtime banking partner Citibank and private credit company Monroe Capital, which will provide additional capital to fuel the firm’s growth plans.
The announcement puts an end to years of speculation about how APCO would extricate itself from its relationship with private equity investor WindRiver, which was believed to own about 30% of the public affairs firm. There had been rumors linking APCO with acquirers ranging from WPP to Deloitte to Teneo Holdings.
“APCO has never been conventional in our growth or our approach,” said founder and chairman Margery Kraus. “We believe this step provides us an opportunity to build on this great legacy at a time of great disruption in the market which requires innovation, bold thinking and the ability to operate without the constraints of a large bureaucracy.”
Kraus acknowledged that the move—at a time when most large agencies are part of even larger holding groups—might be “counter-market,” but said she believed the deal would offer both the freedom of independence, coupled with a financial wherewithal to invest in growth and to make acquisitions as needed.
That’s because both Monroe and Citibank will be hands-off investors. Monroe co-founder and COO Tom Aronson said the firm provides middle market direct lending and private credit to mid-market companies, and that it was not looking to acquire of take a significant holding in the recipients of its support.
Ted Koenig, the founder and CEO of Monroe Capital, added: “We look forward to helping APCO identify growth opportunities, including potential acquisitions for the future.”
The arrangement “stabilizes us, but it also gives us the opportunity to be a little more disruptive,” Kraus said. “This will serve as the rocket fuel to ignite out future.”
APCO first secured its independence in 2004 after more than a decade as an affiliate of Grey Global Group. The firm’s revenue has more than doubled—and its geographic footprint and service offering has expanded considerably—since obtaining its independence, and Kraus is confident the firm can return to that kind of growth after several years of stagnation.
Both Kraus and APCO chief executive Brad Staples were keen to emphasize that the firm’s culture and focus will not change. “We won’t do anything that undermines the culture and the way we operate,” said Kraus, pointing to success in Best Place to Work rankings and the importance of being able to attract top talent.
In terms of the firm’s focus on public affairs, corporate reputation and other high-stakes issues, Staples added: “We are seeing businesses going through massive transformation, as disruptors or as companies being disruptive and they are turning to us for help in managing that process. We have expanded beyond the public affairs space as a result, but we are not going to be just another full-service PR firm.”
It seems clear that Monroe doesn’t want that either. Aronson said the financial company was attracted to APCO by its “world-class operations, its first-class clients, its experienced management team, its high-end strategic approach and its growth potential,” as well as the fact that it is a woman-owned business, which has been a factor in many of Monroe Capital’s investment decisions.
The new APCO will be owned by about 70 of its employees, and will be announcing a new leadership structure, including a “generational shift” shortly.