Talent management firm YMU sold for $76M after financial restructuring (Report)

YMU client Simon Cowell.

YMU, the UK-based talent agency representing celebrities like Simon Cowell, Graham Norton, and Nicole Scherzinger, has been acquired by Permira Credit for GBP £60 million (approx. USD $76 million).

The news, reported by Deadline on Monday (March 18), comes after YMU reportedly explored financial restructuring in June 2023 as it owes £70 million in debt to current lenders. Sky News reported at the time, citing sources in London’s financial district, that YMU lenders Permira Credit and Lloyds Banking Group hired AlixPartners “to undertake an independent business review of the agency.”

As part of the restructuring, Permira has reportedly assumed full control of Yokozuna Newco Limited, YMU’s newly formed parent company. The move marks the exit of Trilantic Europe, YMU’s previous owner for the past five years. 

YMU’s operations currently span the UK and US, representing a diverse range of talent in television, music, and the influencer world. Within the music industry, YMU represents Common, Steve Aoki, Travis Barker from the US, and James Arthur, Gary Barlow, Years & Years, and Jesy Nelson from the UK.  Other notable names on their roster include British presenters Ant & Dec, The Traitors UK host Claudia Winkleman, and YouTube personality Amelia Dimoldenberg. They also manage the music career of Paris Hilton.

Additionally, the company hosts a London-based Business Management division, formerly known as OJK, responsible for managing the finances of several prominent music artists.

According to the report, Permira converted £32.9 million ($42 million) of YMU’s debt into shares of Yokozuna and canceled an additional £16 million ($20 million) of the debt entirely, Deadline reports. Additionally, Permira extended a £10 million ($13 million) credit facility to YMU, bolstering the agency’s financial standing.

This acquisition is reportedly accompanied by an internal shift at YMU. The agency reportedly created a new management incentive plan, granting its senior leadership team, including CEO Mary Bekhait, an ownership stake in the company. Bekhait was named global CEO of YMU on January 1, 2021, after being promoted from her previous role as UK CEO.

The grant of an ownership stake aligns with YMU’s broader financial restructuring, which included securing a £16 million ($20 million) debt facility from Lloyds Bank, with $12 million of that in US dollars.

The restructuring included making 9% of YMU’s 350 employees, or 31 of them, redundant, the report said, citing YMU’s latest earnings report.

While the specific reasons behind YMU’s financial difficulties haven’t been disclosed, the entertainment industry has faced challenges in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted live events and productions, a core revenue stream for talent agencies. YMU’s struggles with debt likely stemmed from these industry-wide issues.

Following its acquisition by Permira, YMU is reportedly seeking new ventures through acquisitions. The talent agency has a history of expansion. In 2022, YMU acquired Digital Sports Mgmt, a gaming and sports marketing agency, for £18.8 million ($24 million).

YMU was formed in 2018 when the UK-based James Grant Group, previously partially owned by Metric Capital, transferred a majority stake in its business to Trilantic and underwent a rebranding to become YMU.

While YMU’s revenue remained relatively flat at £41.6 million ($53 million) in 2022, the company’s adjusted EBITDA, its preferred profit measure, saw a significant drop of 87% to £1.38 million ($1.8 million), Deadline noted. Additionally, the company reported a pre-tax loss of £16.3 million ($21 million) in the same year.

Despite these financial challenges, YMU leadership remains optimistic. Bekhait sees the Permira partnership as a springboard for further growth: “This new phase in our ongoing partnership with Permira will unlock the next wave of the group’s development, allowing us to identify and capture new opportunities for existing and future clients,” Deadline quoted her as saying,

Linda Yaccarino, YMU’s Chair and CEO of Elon Musk’s X, said, “YMU’s potential is limitless. Mary and the YMU leadership team, alongside Permira, have successfully established an investment partnership that will initiate the company’s next phase of growth.”

Permira representatives also expressed confidence in YMU’s future, with Sam Gross and Daniel Hatcher, Managing Directors at Permira Credit, saying: “As longstanding partners with YMU Group, our decision to further our investment is rooted in our belief in the group’s unique position and potential. We look forward to a deepened relationship with management and supporting the group in seizing growth opportunities ahead.”

Music Business Worldwide

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