Brightpoint takes over s2f after big growth plans fizzle

Minority-owned logistics firm s2f Worldwide, started a year ago with high-profile investors and tax incentives in tow, has been acquired by Brightpoint Inc.

The deal closed about three weeks ago, said former s2f CEO Randall Lewis.

Indianapolis-based Brightpoint is one of the world’s largest wireless phone packagers and distributors and was among initial investors in s2f.

Lewis, former chief compliance officer for insurer WellPoint Inc., declined to elaborate on terms of the buyout.

The logistics firm had for a time moved into a 200,000-square-foot space at Plainfield Business Center, 2675 Reeves Road, into which it planned to invest more than $10 million.

But s2f didn’t appear to get far. There are no public records that it landed clients, and the company’s website has been inactive for weeks.

As recently as last month, s2f Worldwide advertised for a vice president of business development. In April, CEO Lewis appeared before the Plainfield Town Council to seek tax abatement for the company, telling the council, “I am very excited to be part of the community.”

Plainfield’s council approved the request for the promising company, anxious after recent hits to its logistics-intensive jobs base. A few months earlier, liquid oxygen therapies firm Covidien announced it was moving its Plainfield facility to Georgia, at a cost of 130 local jobs. CEVA Logistics, a month before s2f’s appearance before the council, said it would close its John Deere warehouse in Plainfield—costing another 250 jobs.

S2f had planned to hire 250 by 2013.

Bob Laikin Laikin

Today, there’s no sign of life at s2f’s end of a 3-year-old warehouse in Plainfield, nor at its former North Meridian Street executive offices near 96th Street. Whether Brightpoint inherited much in the way of business from s2f is unclear. Brightpoint co-founder and CEO Robert Laikin declined to comment.
Brightpoint’s own Delaware-sized warehouse complex in Plainfield is just a few blocks from the former s2f space.

Also declining comment was Lacy Johnson, a key s2f investor and a prominent attorney at Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller. Johnson cited a confidentiality agreement.

Lacy Johnson Johnson

As for Plainfield leaders, they’ve heard rumors s2f is effectively kaput. The town doesn’t appear to be on the hook for making good on tax incentives.

“As we understand it right now, there isn’t any personal property in there,” said Robin Brandgard, president of the Plainfield Town Council.

Plainfield leaders weren’t the only ones betting on good things from s2f. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered the company up to $2 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $45,000 in training grants based on s2f’s job-creation progress.

“Plainfield continues to be among the top choices anywhere for businesses like s2f to grow and expand,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a statement last March touting economic development in the state.

The earliest s2f could have filed for those incentives is next spring, an IEDC spokeswoman said, so it doesn’t appear the state will be out any money.

Brightpoint was to license its supply chain and logistics technology to s2f, which was gunning for supply chain and logistics work from the automotive, chemical, government, life sciences, retail and telecom sectors.

Principals of the company were optimistic despite the slow economy. Johnson, who is also a member of the Indianapolis Airport Authority Board, earlier this year noted the firm’s potential to use FedEx’s second-largest U.S. hub at Indianapolis International Airport, just down the road from Plainfield.

At the time, Lewis said s2f had a number of prospective clients. He cited estimates that the global logistics and supply chain market could swell to $600 billion by 2014, as well as estimates that about one-third of companies that don’t outsource such work currently could do so over the next 12 months. Lewis said a number of companies were reluctant to make capital expenditures for supply chain functions during rough economic times.

It’s not clear whether acquiring s2f could have an effect on Brightpoint’s logistics capabilities or was mainly a move to placate s2f investors. Last year, Brightpoint handled 83.5 million phones, doing everything from procurement to software loading to packaging to arranging shipment to retailers such as Wal-Mart.

Brightpoint generated sales last year of $3.2 billion and had 2,075 employees worldwide.

Among other investors in s2f was Earl Scott, co-founder of Maryland-based telecom infrastructure firm DYNIS LLC, itself an MBE firm. Local investors included Steve Hilbert, founder of Conseco Inc.; Robert Wagner, co-founder of Indianapolis law firm Lewis Wagner; and Michael “Mickey” Maurer, founder of National Bank of Indianapolis and co-owner of IBJ.

The other half of the Plainfield warehouse that s2f vacated is showing signs of life. Construction workers are busy preparing for a new occupant, and Holland, Mich.-based Total Logistic Control recently advertised for jobs to come to the site.

“I can’t comment, as we are operating the building on behalf of one of our clients and we have a [non-disclosure] agreement with them,” said Stephanie Haight, a spokeswoman for TLC, which serves the food and consumer goods manufacturing industries.•

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