WFS Heading into New Pastures

Ground handling agent Worldwide Flight Services, always has been a company which comes up with surprising news, announced during the Air Cargo Europe show in Munich that it will have a new owner.

Olivier Bijaoui  /  company courtesy
Olivier Bijaoui / company courtesy

As is the case with other airport ground handling companies, WFS was owned for the past years by an equity house, namely LBO France.
It is no secret in the market that LBO, who owns WFS since 2006, has been looking for the past months to divest itself of the company, which it seems does not fit or play a role in their future investment portfolio.
Important for WFS and its President & CEO, Olivier Bijaoui, was the fact that the new owner should be one who is willing to invest further in promoting Worldwide’s passenger, ramp and cargo activities.

Platinum Equity, a U.S.-based global investment company, which was founded in 1995, will be WFS’s new owner.
Platinum is said to have assets in excess of US$ 6 billion in a portfolio of over 30 companies worldwide.
These companies generated more than US$ 17 billion in revenues for the group during 2014.

Acquisitions stand at the top of the list.
The ground handling market has seen somewhat more of a move towards further consolidation in the past couple of years.
In this respect, WFS is no exception.
To continue to be on top and expand the added value products which can be offered to the airline industry, one needs investment where financial return can be guaranteed.
The new owner is also an equity house, however, it seems one which is intent on giving the company helmsman and his management team the tools to dig into further acquisitions in the near future.

Oliver Bijaoui, in addressing the press, made no secret of the fact that he has a shopping list of acquisitions for the future.
Here also he makes it clear that cargo acquisitions are at the top of his list.
But what could these be?
Taking over other handling companies which are strong in the cargo business?
There are not many of those still around these days which could be possibly up for sale.
Rumours abound that Menzies Aviation’s mother company wants to divest itself of the airport handling sector.
But, would the WFS team really want to consider that?

One can understand why WFS wishes to concentrate on the cargo side.
The company has been enormously successful in this area during the past years.
Partly due to tying up lucrative agreements with large carriers, but we think mainly because Olivier Bijaoui’s heart lies in the cargo handling sector.

If there is indeed money forthcoming for future investment, then maybe the Paris-based handler may want to consider looking at taking over the physical handling of cargo at selected airports!
Here again, it’s no secret that airports around Europe who still do physical cargo handling, would in some cases be only too willing to outsource this to reliable third parties.
Not an easy task, however, due to union and workers councils objections to such moves.
The recent development in Cologne, whereby the cargo handling was sold off to a third party, is proof that this can work.
Would even larger airports, especially in Germany, consider going down this road?

However, Mr Bijaoui commented as follows on the Platinum takeover:
“We view our future collaboration with Platinum Equity as a unique opportunity to grow our business and explore new opportunities, leveraging on our solid foundations and second-to-none experience. Their financial strength and M&A expertise will be of great support in our acquisition strategy and help the management to write a new and successful page of WFS history.”

With all of this help available, where will Olivier Bijaoui want to place WFS before he eventually considers retiring from the scene?

Watch this space!

John Mc Donagh

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