iHASCO, the health and safety e-learning provider brought to market earlier this year, has been acquired by a private equity-backed trade buyer, EducationInvestor Global can reveal.

This publication can confirm that Citation, a Manchester-headquartered provider of outsourced HR and legal services, has taken a majority stake in iHASCO.

Retrospective filings with Companies House show that Citation Holdings, which is backed by private equity behemoth KKR, was listed as a ‘person with significant control’ of iHASCO on 22 October. The filing shows that Citation holds, directly or indirectly, at least three-quarters of the company’s shares. 

On that date, a number of Citation’s senior management were listed as directors of iHASCO, including Christopher Morris, Citation’s chief executive, Matthew Stacey, managing director of Citation portfolio company QMS International, and Eloise Wann, Citation’s chief financial officer.

Citation, which provides subscription-based HR and employment law, health and safety, and compliance services to SMEs, was acquired by KKR in August from Hg, another private equity firm, which had owned Citation since 2016. Prior to that, Citation was owned by ECI Partners, a buyout group.

Armed with a mandate to bolster its portfolio under several years of private equity ownership, Citation has expanded its client based from 5,000 in 2013 to more than 40,000 today, partially through acquisitions. During this period, annual revenues have increased from £20 million to £65 million, while Citation’s staff base has swelled to 900 from 250.

The firm’s takeover of iHASCO, which was brought to market by Clearwater International in the summer, will add more than 10,000 clients to Citation’s roster at a time when demand for health and safety training is slated to rise with more people working from home.

The price at which iHASCO traded is unclear. However, corporate financiers from Clearwater International had marketed the company as making earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £3-4 million. Earlier this year, several sources suggested that iHASCO would likely trade for 10-12 times this figure – indicating an enterprise value of at least £30 million.

Citation’s education portfolio includes Education Personnel Management (EPM), an HR and payroll support services provider to schools across the UK, which it acquired in 2017. The group also owns Avec Partnership, an education services company based in Darlington, which it took over in September last year.

Morris has presided over a number of acquisitions as chief executive of Citation, which he joined in 2013 from LateRooms.com, a hotel booking website once owned by ECI Partners.

Morris grew LateRooms.com’s sales to more than £500 million before leaving the group after its sale to TUI Travel and joining Citation, shortly after it was acquired by ECI Partners.

Earlier this year, ECI Partners was in the running to acquire a slice of a growing school services provider formed by a merger between Arbor Education and The Key, but was ultimately beaten by CBPE Capital.

Clearwater International declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Citation had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.


Date published: 7 December 2020

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