After three days of intense negotiations, billionaire businessman Christoph Blocher finally has achieved his dream of Swiss control of injection press maker Netstal-Maschinen AG.
On July 5, Blocher's Emesta Holding AG bought Netstal from London-based Apax Partners & Co. Ventures Ltd.
Blocher has been around the block a few times with Netstal. In 1998, after a heated stock-ownership battle with Netstal's former owner, Mannesmann Plastics Machinery AG, Blocher was kicked off Netstal's board of directors and deposed as Netstal's chairman.
When Siemens AG sold MPM to Apax on July 6, Blocher moved quickly. But although the deal came together in three days, Blocher actually set the stage by contacting all of MPM's buyers in advance, said Renate Kruemmer, an Apax managing director based in Munich, Germany.
``I think Blocher contacted almost all the competitors and asked about Netstal,'' Kruemmer said in a July 12 telephone interview. ``We knew he was around. His strong interest in making Netstal a Swiss company has been documented pretty frequently.''
Blocher is an ardent Swiss nationalist and political leader who also owns nylon producer EMS-Chemie Holding AG of Zurich. Emesta Holding is based in Zug, Switzerland.
Although Kruemmer would not comment on the sale price, the purchase was valued as high as 500 million Swiss francs ($278 million), according to published reports in Europe.
Emesta, which is entirely owned by Blocher, now holds about 89.8 percent of Netstal's shares, with the remainder traded on the Swiss Stock Exchange in Zurich. Netstal is based south of Zurich in Nafels, Switzerland.
Chief Executive Officer Dieter Klug, in a letter addressed to Netstal's 813 employees, said the purchase would gain some freedom and stability for Netstal by making it an independent company.
``This takeover by a Swiss entrepreneur is particularly important to secure the future of the Netstal Group in the long term,'' Klug said.
Several industry observers said Netstal wanted a break from the ownership carousel it had been on the past few years.
``The company does not have to wonder anymore what will happen next,'' one observer said.
Netstal, a leading producer of injection molding equipment for compact discs and PET preforms, operates a U.S. headquarters in Devens, Mass. All production is done in Nafels. The firm recorded sales last year of SF476 million ($265 million), more than one-fifth of sales for the MPM group. The firm also earned close to a 10 percent profit margin in 2000.
As desirable as those bottom-line numbers look, Apax would have found it difficult to grow Netstal, Kruemmer said. With 10 percent of its stock publicly traded in Switzerland, the private investment firm would have been under duress to provide a quick return, she said.
Also, Apax could have faced regulatory difficulties from the European Union had it attempted to buy another company to merge with Netstal, Kruemmer added.
``All this and the fact that Swiss authorities had a difference of opinion on the buyout would have made a further acquisition boom difficult,'' Kruemmer said. ``We were admittedly quick and decisive in selling it.''
That ``difference of opinion'' was fueled by Blocher, who heads Switzerland's supernationalist People's Party. Blocher, 60, favors keeping Swiss companies under local ownership.
He also has campaigned to reduce foreign immigration, keep Swiss NATO peacekeepers unarmed and block admission of the country to both the EU and the United Nations. His party is one of the largest political forces in Switzerland.
While serving as Netstal chairman in 1997 and 1998, he stymied a bid by Dusseldorf, Germany-based MPM to buy the remaining 10 percent of Netstal stock that still was Swiss-owned. Friction from that incident, and a prior rebuff in his attempt to buy Netstal, led to his banishment from Netstal's management team.
Blocher ranked 336th in a June survey of the world's richest people by Forbes magazine, with a net worth valued at $1.5 billion.