Report: Herff Jones set to be sold for $1.5 billion

Herff Jones is set to be acquired by a private-equity group for about $1.5 billion, Reuters reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the deal.

Reuters said Boston-based Charlesbank Capital Partners is leading a private-equity consortium that beat out other buyout groups in pursuit of the company, which was renamed Varsity Brands this summer.

IBJ reported on Oct. 25 that that the employee-owned business was on the verge of being acquired, likely to a private-equity buyer.

Herff Jones has been a corporate fixture in Indianapolis for 94 years. The $737 million in revenue it generated in 2013 ranked it 18th on IBJ’s list of the largest private Indiana companies.

June's name change to Varsity Brands reflected the growing influence of Jeff Webb, who was founder of Memphis, Tennessee-based Varsity Brands, a powerhouse in cheerleading clinics and equipment that Herff acquired in 2011. After Webb became Herff's CEO in 2013, the company's headquarters shifted to Memphis, where Webb continues to live.

Herff Jones is now a division of Varsity Brands along with Dallas-based apparel firm BSN Sports and Memphis-based cheerleading uniform maker Varsity Spirit. The entire company has about 7,000 employees.

Varsity has about 400 Indianapolis employees, who are split between the former Herff Jones headquarters at 4501 W. 62nd St. and a nearby paper plant.

Reuters said the European investment firm Partners Group AG is joining Charlesbank in its bid for Varsity Brands.

According to Reuters, a deal for Varsity Brands would be a big one for Charlesbank, which usually makes investments of $50 million to $150 million in companies with valuations of up to $750 million. The firm has invested more than $3.3 billion in 70 companies since 1991.

Through an employee stock ownership plan Herff Jones launched in 1995, about 4,500 of Varsity’s workers own company shares. The stock has been released to them gradually over the years, as Herff paid down a loan used to finance the employees’ purchase.

Herff Jones was founded in Indianapolis in 1920 by Harry J. Herff and Randall H. Jones. Known for its class rings, it also makes championship rings, yearbooks, caps and gowns, diplomas and awards.


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