Smiles Inclusive CEO resigns as Genesis Capital wins bid to acquire assets

Smiles Inclusive CEO resigns as Genesis Capital wins bid to acquire assets

After 10 months at the helm of embattled Gold Coast-based dental practice chain Smiles Inclusive, Michelle Aquilina has stepped down from her CEO role as the group passes to new hands.

Since entering voluntary administration in November with Deloitte Restructuring Partners managing the process, several alternatives were proposed with Genesis Capital successfully bidding for Smiles' "Totally Smiles Dental Group" assets.

However, one of the bidding groups representing aggrieved joint venture partners (JVPs) claims its proposed Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) for Smiles Inclusive was not considered in the creditors' meeting, and has called for an injunction in an attempt to prevent the Genesis handover. 

Led by Dr Michael Caristo, Genesis beat a rival bid from a consortium known as 'Apple', which is understood to be backed by Canadian pension fund OPTrust and Dr Alex Abrahams, the co-founder of Pacific Smiles.

Aquilina used to work at Pacific Smiles with seven years at the company in managerial roles, but she has distanced herself from Apple's bid. She told Business News Australia either of these two options would have been beneficial for the group.

"Genesis are the successful bidder. They're an exceptional private equity company that are very well versed and experienced in healthcare," she said.

"Michael Caristo, one of the founding members there, is a doctor himself, so not only does he understand the commercial side of the business but also the relationship side from a healthcare professional point of view.

"I do think that the business is in good hands with Genesis."

She added now was the time to move on from Smiles Inclusive.

"I think it's the right time for me to step aside, so I've resigned as managing director and CEO," she said.

"First and foremost what we've done has been focusing on the survival of the business and going through a successful bidder process, which we did."

Genesis Capital claimed the transaction would bring much needed stability to Totally Smiles' practitioners and staff, as the specialist healthcare investment firm reinvests in the business with a focus on sustainability and clinical quality.

The incoming owner says this will allow Totally Smiles' dentists to continue to deliver the highest standards in dental care, noting key dental partners retained a significant interest in the new structure.

"We are grateful that the administrators and dentist shareholders have chosen Genesis as the preferred partner for Totally Smiles Dental Group moving forward," says Caristo, whose gruop also has investments in entities such as such as SmartClinics, CPR Pharma, SAI Home & Community Care and Cosmos Clinic.

"Having familiarised ourselves with the business we have been very impressed with the dedication that the practitioners have continued to show their patients during what has been a difficult period for the business, in conjunction with the onset of COVID-19.

"We are looking forward to helping ensure that those practitioners can return to focussing on their patients while working in a stable and secure environment."

Late last year an ASIC ban on Smiles Inclusive to raise capital through a simple prospectus was the final nail in the coffin for its status as a listed entity, following years of disappointing results, financial reporting delays, shareholder value dilution, and repeated failures to pay back a loan to National Australia Bank (ASX: NAB).

It was a debt that loomed large over Smiles - also known for its brand Totally Smiles - with repayment requirements reduced from $19 million to $12 million, but even that target could not be met for the company that ran at a $13.6 million loss in the half before COVID-19 when clinics were shut down and many joint venture partners pulled the plug.

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