Events moved at a rapid pace over the weekend for the potential new owners of Virgin Australia. Eight bidders had submitted initial bids to the airline’s administrator, Deloitte, on Friday evening. By Monday morning, Deloitte had whittled that list down to just four.
Who made the final shortlist and who did not
The four bidders who made the cut are global hedge fund Cyrus Capital Partners, Melbourne based private equity firm BGH Capital, US private investment firm Bain Capital, and Bill Franke’s Indigo Partners.
“We are delighted by the strength of each of those on the shortlist, with parties selected being well funded and possessing deep aviation experience,” said Deloitte’s Vaughan Strawbridge in a statement provided to Simple Flying.
Among the initial bidders not making the shortlist was Australian’s Andrew Forrest, and India’s InterGlobe Aviation (owners of IndiGo).
Canadian investment juggernaut Brookfield Asset Management pulled out amid concerns about how the shortlist and sale process was being managed.
“We understand some parties will be disappointed that they have not been invited to continue their interest,” said Vaughan Strawbridge earlier today.
One bid that took everyone by surprise
The surprise inclusion in the shortlist is New York-based Cyrus Capital Partners. They had kept a low profile in the lead up to the submission of initial bids on Friday.
With a focus on North America and Europe, Cyrus is a newcomer to Australia’s commercial scene. But it does have a history with Richard Branson, having made a motza investing with him in Virgin America in 2005. Richard Branson remains keen to be involved in a rebooted Virgin Australia.
Less successful was Cyrus Capital Partners’ play with Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Group to buy out Flybe in early 2019. Flybe went into administration earlier this year.
Local favorite balks at conditions imposed by airline administrator
Also making the shortlist was local favorite BGH Capital. The well connected private equity firm has teamed up with superannuation fund Australian Super and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. BGH Capital had reportedly balked at some of the sale conditions imposed by Deloitte, refusing until this morning to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Vaughan Strawbridge stood by his bidding conditions, today saying;
“We cannot comment on who the shortlisted parties are due to confidentiality commitments, but we will be working intensely with them over the next four weeks to enable binding offers by mid-June.
“This will involve the sharing of more detailed financial and operational information, management workshops, and meeting with as many of the financiers, landlords, suppliers, unions, and other stakeholders of the business as possible.”
Richard Branson lurks, has ties with more than one shortlisted bidder
Another potential owner that made the shortlist is Bain Capital. The private investment firm owns Trans Maldivian Airways. Their bid for Virgin Australia has links with Australian’s sovereign wealth Future Fund and Bain are expected to invite further interested parties to the table as it works on its final, binding bid due in June.
Richard Branson also has ties with Bain Capital, both having stakes in Virgin Cruises.
“Richard wants to be in there somewhere. He wants to link up with whoever looks like winning,” one industry commentator told The Australian today.
Bill Franke would turn Virgin Australia on its head
The final bidder that made the shortlist is Arizona based Indigo Partners. The owner of several low-cost airlines declined to comment when previously approached by SImple Flying. Should their bid ultimately succeed, there would likely be a seismic shift in the culture and operations at a rebooted Virgin Australia.
However, Indigo’s ownership of two airlines (Frontier Airlines and Wizz Air) that have recently received government assistance is capturing attention in Australian corporate circles. Some have questioned how and why a business could take government assistance on the one hand, while simultaneously trying to buy out another airline.
But the upshot is that it’s looking likely Virgin Australia will keep flying under one guise or another. That will be a relief for the airline’s many stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and secured creditors.
“We are confident we can achieve, and our objective remains to deliver a revitalized, viable, and profitable airline under new ownership,” said Mr Strawbridge on Friday.
Final binding bids are due on June 12.