Aviation & Aerospace

Published: October 30, 2019 | Updated: October 30, 2019

Cobham acquisition by American private equity firm could end up before judge

Cobham’s Wimborne base. The aerospace and defence company employs about 1,000 people in Dorset.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

A controversial takeover of one of Dorset’s biggest companies by a US private equity firm could end up in the courts.

Last month investors in Cobham, the Wimborne-based aerospace and defence company, overwhelmingly approved a £4bn offer by Advent International.

Its 165p-a-share offer to delist the business won the support of 93 per cent of shareholders, well over the 75 per cent threshold needed to pass.

The Cobham Board backed the offer.

But the decision to let the 85-year-old company fall into American hands has come under strong attack from some small shareholders and also Cobham’s founder family.

Lady Cobham, the widow of former chief executive Sir Michael Cobham, son of founder Sir Alan Cobham, has been a particularly vociferous critic, raising concerns over national security.

Gordon Page, former Chief Executive and, latterly, Chairman of Cobham. He retired from the company in 2008.

Former Cobham Chief Executive and Chairman, Gordon Page, who retired from the company in 2008, has also voiced his opposition saying private equity is not a suitable owner for one of the UK’s biggest defence firms.

European Union, US and Finnish regulators have now approved the acquisition.

However, the deal still has to be agreed by the government.

It has the power to block it on national security grounds or if it decides that the sale would damage the UK’s industrial base.

On October 29 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which had been asked to look into the deal by Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, passed its verdict to the government.

An announcement about its finding is expected at any time.

However, according to reports, if the CMA raise no objections to the deal and the acquisition is waved through then the Cobham family may go for a judicial review.

That could mean the acquisition is held up for months while a judge reviews the lawfulness of any decision to approve the deal.

Cobham employs around 10,000 people across five continents with about 1,000 jobs in Dorset.

Shonnel Malani, the Advent Partner who has been leading the offer, has played down concerns that work could be transferred out of the UK, saying it would “be a pretty dumb business decision”.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph he added: “This is an engineering-led business and you cannot just take that expertise and move it to another country.”