September 18, 2018 / 7:07 AM / 3 months ago

Bertelsmann to expand customer service alliance with Morocco's Saham

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German publisher Bertelsmann (BTGGg.F) said it was merging its customer service business with that of its Moroccan partner Saham, opting for a global alliance rather than a sale as it restructures its sprawling portfolio.

Bertelsmann will fold its Arvato CRM subsidiary into a 50-50 joint venture with Saham’s own operation, creating a business with 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in revenues that employs 48,000 staff in 25 countries, it said on Tuesday.

Chairman and CEO Thomas Rabe put Arvato CRM up for sale at the beginning of the year, excluding the French business it runs together with Saham. But, in the end, the German company opted to expand a relationship that dates back to 2004. “We plan a long-term partnership,” Rabe told reporters on a conference call before the announcement. As part of the deal, which values the joint venture at several hundred million euros, Saham will pay an undisclosed sum so that both partners hold equal stakes, Rabe said.

Besides their existing joint venture in Africa, which mainly serves French-speaking markets, Bertelsmann will contribute its Arvato CRM operations in Europe, America and Asia. Saham will bring in its operations in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Bertelsmann, founded more than 180 years ago as a protestant publishing house, is today a 17 billion euro company with eight divisions spanning everything from television to book publishing and music.

Rabe is reshuffling its portfolio to concentrate on growth areas such as digital education, with Monday’s acquisition of U.S. adult education provider OnCourse Learning, and turn around divisions such as printing that are struggling.

Saham, a diversified family business founded in 1995, said the joint venture would benefit from growth in the global Customer Relationship Management (CRM) market - in particular for digital companies, telecoms and the financial sector.

The joint venture, to be set up in early 2019 subject to regulatory approvals and employee consultations, will be debt-free and able to fund investments in IT, automation and robotics from its own resources.

The company will be headquartered in Luxembourg and its first CEO will be Bertelsmann executive Thomas Mackenbrock, Rabe said.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Thomas Seythal/Keith Weir

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