By Linda Baker
Above: Jim Johnson, president of Tripwire, says the company’s acquisition by Thoma Bravo will make the company bigger and better. “We have a growing successful headquarter company in Oregon and our new owners are financially driven — they are not trying to consolidate companies. They bought us because they thought we had an upside.”
// Photo by Matthew Ginn
Below: Portland-based Hanna Andersson was sold in 2008 to Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina
The Tazo move “was unfortunate,” says founder Steve Smith, who has since launched another tea enterprise, Steven Smith Teamaker, this one operating out of Northwest Portland. Battles over consolidating the Portland and Washington operations have gone on for years, Smith says. “When Tazo Portland turned into a manufacturing plant only, the soul started to slip away.”
Not all Oregon companies that have been acquired move out of state or are absorbed by the parent company. And the reasons businesses sell run the gamut: an intentional exit strategy, bankruptcy, succession challenges in family-owned businesses and more recently, a dismal IPO market. But if the spate of fall buyouts is noteworthy, it’s because it underscores Oregon’s primary role in the merger and acquisition marketplace as a kind of shopping center for large, out-of-state firms. “We’re an incubator,” says Smith. “There are lots of creative people here thinking about things in a unique way and creating small businesses that then have tremendous potential within a larger business at some point.”
There’s no shame in serving as the nation’s innovation mill. On the contrary, innovation has brought the state national and international acclaim. But as job and wage growth strategies in Oregon take center stage — and as other regions expand on our success — our place in the acquisition food chain, and the reasons for that placement, merit a closer look. Consider that in 2011, Oregon companies acquired or partially purchased 49 out-of-state companies in deals valued at about $1.7 billion, according to New York-based Dealogic. That figure doesn't include the value of deals with undisclosed terms. A single acquisition, Precision Castparts’ $900 million purchase of Bellevue-based Primus, accounted for more than half of the amount invested.
By contrast, there were 82 Oregon targeted acquisitions or partial purchases by out-of-state companies or private equity firms and investors in 2011 — a deal landscape valued at about $2.7 billion (not including undisclosed terms). Those acquisitions added to a string of buyouts or majority stake sales of Oregon companies, a list that includes Harry & David, U.S. Bank, Tektronix, Willamette Industries, YoCream, Hanna Andersson, Fred Meyer, Lucy Activewear and Stumptown Coffee.
“Oregon is building businesses that people want to buy,” says Carolyn Vogt, a Lane Powell attorney. “[But] why are we the target rather than the buyer?”