In 2018, the annual Private Equity Awards (Real Deals Awards) recognized the top performers in the private equity industry throughout Europe. These awards are amongst the most highly regarded awards in the PE industry because they are presented and voted on by an independent committee of leading figures in the industry. There are nine award categories. In 2018 QA, the UK’s leader in IT education and skills, won the UK mid-sized deal of the year. At the end of the ceremony 750 attendees from the entire European private equity industry vote for the overall winner of European Deal of the Year from the nine categories. QA was voted the overall winner by a large majority. The deal was led by EMK Capital LLP. This was unusual in that very large deals with widely recognised brands typically win this vote reflecting the higher name recognition of these companies. QA prevailed not because of brand recognition but because of truly exceptional operating performance and investment returns.
In 2007 QA was acquired with a c.£2m EBITDA in the first year of ownership. As of 2017 the company reached an EBITDA rate over £50 million under the guidance of CEO William Macpherson. Macpherson was recruited by Lazarus as the CEO in 2008 because of his proven track record building training programs and leading a big part of Kaplan. Together Macpherson and Lazarus successfully revamped QA, providing leadership renewal, improved salesforce management, systems and commission structures, improved management of scheduling, and a “sophisticated development and pricing of courses.” Customer satisfaction also became a large focus after QA was acquired as it was made a large part of the company’s culture and operations. According to Real Deals, “These internal organic changes produced a transformation in QA’s margins while at the same time sustaining strong organic growth in the core business.”
QA grew its sales from £100 million to £250 million and was sold in 2017 (as a bilateral process). The exit of QA brought a “15x multiple on capital on an initial investment of c.£45m.” It’s no doubt that this deal rightly earned both the UK mid-sized Deal of the Year and Overall European Deal of the Year 2018.