Employees Acquire Appleton
APPLETON, WI—A new buyout method has placed ownership of a paper company in the hands of its employees. Workers of Appleton Papers have purchased all the company's stock from its European parent, Arjo Wiggins Appleton, in a deal valued at $810 million.
As part of the deal, management and non-management employees voted to transfer $107 million from their 401(a) and 401(k) plans through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) into Paperweight, the acquisition vehicle used by the employees to acquire the company. Paperweight then acquired Appleton, and Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin of Washington—Paperweight's financial advisor—arranged financing in excess of $700 million through bank debt, bonds and junior capital in support of the employees' $107 million equity investment in Appleton.
According to the company, the deal creates one of the largest buyouts in U.S. corporate history.
The transaction represents a stray from the traditional leveraged buyout structure. Paperweight acquired 100 percent ownership by combining an S Corporation structure with an ESOP equity investment, an approach that shelters 100 percent of the company's earnings from U.S. corporate income tax.
The ESOP, as a benefit plan trust for company employees' equity ownership, is a tax-exempt entity under federal laws; thus, the S Corporation does not require cash distributions to the ESOP, as its shareholder, because it is not liable for income taxes.
In February, Appleton Papers and Arjo Wiggins Appleton announced that the two companies had agreed to explore a purchase of Appleton Papers through the use of an employee stock ownership plan.
Doug Buth, CEO for Appleton Papers, said the combination of a fair purchase price, the low cost of capital financing, and the operating and financial strength of the company have created an extraordinary opportunity for the employees of Appleton Papers.
"We are taking ownership of a very successful company," Buth notes. "We are the market leader in carbonless and thermal products and we are leveraging our technology platforms to achieve growth through new business development. Ownership provides additional incentive for us to achieve our growth objectives."