Billionaire Nassef Sawiris and GBL-Backed SPAC Seek European Deals

Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and French entrepreneur Ian Gallienne are betting their blank-check company can stand out from a crowded market by focusing on European targets.

Avanti Acquisition Corp., which is set to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, is pitching its focus on family and founder-led European targets to investors. So far, it seems to be working: The new vehicle is expected to raise about $600 million, up from the initial target of $500 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Billionaire Nassef Sawiris and GBL-Backed SPAC Seek European Deals

NNS Group, the family office of Sawiris, and Sienna Capital, a unit of $15 billion European investment vehicle Groupe Bruxelles Lambert SA, also plan to invest about $100 million on top of that amount, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private.

Avanti is being dubbed the largest U.S.-listed SPAC to focus on European acquisitions, where company valuations are traditionally below the U.S. The vehicle is scouting for targets among the continent’s large population of family-owned businesses. The SPAC is seeking high-growth companies in sectors including technology, health and consumer and is expected to target those worth 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) to 4 billion euros or more.

Sawiris and GBL Chief Executive Officer Gallienne are entering a crowded space where potential targets are being acquired quickly. This year, 118 SPACs have raised more than $44 billion in initial public offerings on U.S. exchanges, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s more than half the total raised by SPACs in all previous years, the data show.

On Thursday, Playboy Enterprises Inc., the storied men’s magazine publisher turned prolific brand licensor, announced that it will return to the public markets after nearly a decade through a special-purpose acquisition company.

The SPAC’s backers have been pitching their track record of high-profile European investments to attract investors, the people said. Both firms behind the SPAC have invested in LafargeHolcim Ltd., the world’s biggest cement maker since a 2014 merger, as well as athletic-shoe maker Adidas AG.

Sawiris is Egypt’s wealthiest man with a net worth of about $5.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has invested in Dutch fertilizer producer OCI NV as well as English soccer club Aston Villa.

GBL was largely built by deceased Belgian billionaire Albert Frere, who turned his family’s nail and chain business into an empire stretching from energy to alcohol. He held interests in oil producer Total SA and distiller Pernod Ricard SA.

GBL named Gallienne sole CEO in December 2018, shortly after the death of his father-in-law, Albert Frere. GBL is backed by the Frere family and Canadian Desmarais clan.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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