David Keene on M&A

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The staging industry is not exactly a hotbed of M&A activity (mergers and acquisitions). On this page in the last issue, I wrote about Samsung and Harman—one of the few times over the years when M&A came to our world, and it was significant news indeed. Recently, on March 2nd this year, we all saw the press release that “Barco and ETC announced today that they are in the midst of serious discussions wherein ETC would acquire High End Systems, Barco’s lighting activities, part of the Entertainment division.”
Some in the industry were not surprised by this news. Barco had acquired High End a few years back, not grown it internally, and like any acquisition—especially an international one—there are always marital and housekeeping issues that may or may not work out in the longer term. What I found interesting in this Barco/ETC announcement is that unlike normal acquisition news, where both companies involved keep it all hush-hush until all the t’s are crossed and all the ink dry, this announcement said: “While the timeline for the completion of this acquisition is still unknown, both parties are committed to moving forward with a successful transaction.”

Curious. I won’t speculate here on the reason for this somewhat unorthodox announcement. But we should not read too much into how the sausage is made, if the sausage looks great. Having been one of the very early employees (one of the first five, there on day one of that company) of High End, many years ago, I’ve always appreciated their Texas swagger and DNA tuned to pushing the envelope. They came up with some great lighting products over the years, and their delving into new territory with video/lighting hybrid tools, and media servers, has been fascinating and certainly one of the reasons Barco wooed them.

Fast forward to today, and High End is still innovating, with their Sola family of LED automated fixtures, Wholehog consoles, and media servers. Should the marriage with ETC take place, and it looks like it will, I foresee a bright future for High End.
Wim Buyens, Senior Vice President of Barco’s Entertainment division, commented, “For Barco, the envisioned divestment of its lighting activities is in line with its strategy to sharpen the focus on its core activities. We believe joining forces with ETC would enable High End Systems to realize its full business potential, while providing ongoing support and opportunity development for its customers, and we appreciate ETC’s commitment to maintain High End’s operations in Austin and fully support the development of High End’s products.”

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