The shake-up in ownership of Australia’s veterinary sector has stepped up this week with the announcement by Swedish private equity group EQT that it is acquiring VetPartners in a deal that has been rumoured to be worth more than $1 billion.
VetPartners, owned by US-based National Veterinary Associates, Inc., is the largest provider of veterinary services in Australia and New Zealand with 267 vet practices in its stable, along with training centres and a vet nurse training school.
The business shot past the Glen Richards-founded Greencross Vets as Australia’s largest veterinary care group in 2020 after NVA successfully merged its VetPartners with National Veterinary Care, which at the time was ranked number three in the market and was founded by Tomas Steenackers, a former Greencross GM.
The proposed EQT acquisition, which is being made through the group’s BPEA Private Equity Fund VIII, comes on the heels of private equity group TPG last year selling a 45 per cent stake in the formerly listed Greencross to super funds AustralianSuper and HOOPP in a deal worth more than $3.5 billion.
While EQT declines to reveal to Business News Australia the value of the VetPartners acquisition, the Australian Financial Review has quoted sources that say the group has settled for a deal slightly less than EQT’s original $1.4 billion offer.
VetPartners was founded in 2016 with just 32 community practices across three states and has since grown to include operations in New Zealand and Singapore that service 3.2 million visitors a year. The business comprises 1,300 vets and more than 3,000 nurses and clinical support staff.
EQT has been hunting for opportunities in Australia for some time including a $3.3 billion bid in 2019 for Vocus Group, a move that it later abandoned, and a rumoured interest in healthcare provider Healius (ASX: HLS).
While the VetPartners deal remains subject to regulatory approval, EQT says it plans to make a ‘significant investment’ in VetPartners to drive business growth.
The company already has experience in the field as owner of European veterinary care group IVC Evidensia which EQT helped establish in 2017.
EQT says VetPartners will be a standalone investment and it plans to support the group’s medical professionals to ensure its clinical teams ‘have access to the latest medical equipment, digital tools and innovation capabilities’.
The company plans to focus on recruitment initiatives, as well as training, professional development and mental health programs for staff within the group.
Mark Jeffery, CEO of VetPartners, says EQT has a strong global track record in animal health and healthcare more broadly’.
“Together, we will continue to be an advocate for the advancement of the veterinary profession, fostering a collegiate community of professionals delivering the highest-quality healthcare services to pet parents in the region with a common mission to improve the comfort and wellbeing of animals," Jeffrey says.
David Forde, the investment advisor and co-head of EQT Private Equity ANZ, says his team has been ‘highly impressed’ by the VetPartners business.
“As one of the leading global animal health investors, EQT is uniquely positioned to support VetPartners' continued growth and sustained delivery of high-quality healthcare for the pets that families cherish," Forde says.
Subject to all conditions being met, EQT anticipates the deal will settle by the end of this calendar year.
The group says that once this transaction has been settled, its BPEA VIII fund will be 35 to 40 per cent invested.
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