By Carlos David Mongollón

M&As & Culligan—Waiting for the Next Big Deal!
When will the Culligan shoe drop? That’s the big question going into this year’s WQA convention in Baltimore this month. Who’s going to buy the POU/POE water treatment industry’s leading brand?

It’s been several months since Veolia Environnement announced it was selling off remaining assets in USFilter—which then parent company, Vivendi, bought in March 1999 for $6.2 billion. Greg Noorgaard, incoming WQA president and Culligan executive vice president, says he would be surprised if a sale were consummated before 2004’s third quarter, adding he could not comment further. Our interview with him is in next month’s issue.

John Packard, the largest independent Culligan dealer with 20 dealerships, said he understood an audit was necessary before it was put out for bids, but expects up to six vying for the company. He’s more optimistic about a new owner since, in a dozen sales of Culligan over 20 years, this is the first time prospective buyers contacted him beforehand. Said Packard: “That’s really nice. It’s gratifying. And that’s why I tend to have a positive view because people that want to buy it are doing more research on the dealer side than I’ve ever experienced. And to me that can only be positive.”

Meanwhile, in roughly the past year, we’ve seen:

  • General Electric pick up Osmonics Inc., adding it to the new GE Water Technologies division, and form an alliance with Pall Corp., which acquired USFilter’s Filtration & Separations Group, to serve industrial water markets.
  • ITT Industries buy PCI Membranes and WEDECO A.G., which itself amassed UV and ozone disinfection acquisitions in recent years.
  • Apollo/Blackstone Group, a group of investors that once owned Culligan International, acquire Ondeo Nalco.
  • Calgon Carbon Corp. buy a watered down Waterlink, whose main holding Barnebey Sutcliffe nonetheless accentuates Calgon’s dominance in activated carbon.
  • The home-office delivery (HOD) niche in bottled water heat up with Grupo Danone snatching Eden Springs and partnering with Japan’s Suntory, and Nestlé Waters grabbing Powwow and Clear Water Group.

There were other big deals, but honors for the most impressive string of buys goes to Pentair Inc. Not only did Pentair acquire Plymouth Products—now Pentek—from USFilter in late 2002, it bought USFilter’s Everpure and most recently WICOR, the parent company of Sta-Rite Industries. WICOR adds a host of complementary brands to Pentair’s arsenal of products, but some that overlap as well. Both companies, for instance, have pumps for just about every application. They also are strong in pool products. And they both make tanks and enclosures with Pentair owning Structural and K&M Plastics/Composites—another acquisition last year; and WICOR owning Park International, which Sta-Rite acquired in August 2000.

Jorge Fernandez, Pentair senior vice president for emerging markets, said the company plans to reorganize after the sale is complete, planning to jettison a lagging Tools Business Unit and renaming the Water Treatment Division as the Filtration & Purification Division. He adds, “The reason for the change… is it signals a broadening of scope… It underscores the importance we give the acquisition of Plymouth… Everpure and now WICOR. We are now very meaningful in a competitive arena with the CUNOs, the Palls and others interested in making water better globally.”

Some concerned about the consolidation, such as Clack Corp.’s Rich Clack, take a wait-and-see approach to the Pentair/WICOR deal and how anti-trust regulators might view it. Clack comments, “I want to be really clear, we’ve got a great interest in what happens with this Pentair/Sta-Rite deal because we distribute the Park tank. Three years ago, we broke away from Pentair’s Structural Fibers to go into the Park camp. So, we’ve got a lot of interest in what’s going on here. And we’re going to take a real cautious look at what the implications are.”

Fernandez says he’s confident the deal will be approved in whole. But he doubts Pentair will buy Culligan due to its commitment as a components supplier and such a deal would put it in competition with customers who do completed systems.


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