High ground for Hyland? Rumors swirl about billion-dollar exit

Contact: Brenon Daly

A half-dozen years after acquiring a majority stake in Hyland Software, Thoma Bravo is rumored to be looking at selling its chunk of the enterprise content management (ECM) vendor. And the deal – if there is one – won’t be cheap: the asking price for Hyland is thought to be about $1.2bn.

According to our understanding, that would value Hyland at more than 4x trailing sales and about 15x EBITDA. Those multiples are slightly richer than the current trading valuation of ECM giant Open Text. Although we should note that Open Text shares are currently trading at an all-time high, up some 50% since the beginning of the year.

The bull market for shares of rival Open Text has prompted speculation that Hyland, which is being advised by Goldman Sachs, is dual-tracking. After all, Hyland has already been down at least some of the road to the public market. The 22-year-old maker of the OnBase product put in its IPO paperwork back in May 2004, but pulled it a half-year later. (Currently, Hyland has roughly five times the revenue and number of employees it did when it put in its prospectus almost a decade ago.)

While Hyland could certainly opt for a trade-sale, an IPO might just prove more lucrative in the long run. Some software investors might pass on putting money into a license-based company, but Hyland certainly has characteristics that would nonetheless find some buyers on Wall Street. The pure-play ECM company puts up about 20% growth, primarily by focusing on specific vertical markets, most notably healthcare, higher education and financial services.

That position tends to be more defensible than broad, horizontal ECM offerings, which have come under threat from old rivals (SharePoint) as well as startups (Box). (My colleague Alan Pelz-Sharpe has noted that Hyland most often bumps into vendors that were consolidated during the previous round of ECM match-making, such as FileNet and Documentum.)

Cleveland, Ohio-based Hyland also benefits from strong customer support, and it has a reputation as a solid company with ‘Midwestern’ values, and a culture of an ‘honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.’) The company boasts a 98% maintenance renewal rate among its nearly 12,000 customers.

Hyland’s approach stands out starkly to the approach taken by the much larger – and more mature – Open Text, which has dropped more than $2bn on a dozen deals over the past three years. It gobbled up a number of ECM vendors before expanding into adjacent markets such as business process management and data integration. Still, Open Text’s consolidation strategy hasn’t hurt it on Wall Street, which values the company at $5bn.

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