Forbes Media, which has been on the market for about a year, has found a buyer: Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media Investments has bought a majority stake in the company.
People familiar with the deal say the purchase places a $475 million enterprise value on the company.
In an interview, Forbes chairman and editor-in-chief Steve Forbes said the new investors own “the vast majority” of what used to be his family’s company. What does that mean? “To me, vast is over 51 percent,” Forbes said.
The fact that Forbes was able to find a buyer at anything close to that price will surprise many media observers. Last fall, when Time Inc. was still a part of Time Warner, the publisher offered to buy Forbes for $175 million. This year, Forbes reps were positioning it for a much higher sale price, but prospective buyers like German publisher Axel Springer and Chinese holding company Fosun didn’t bite.
In a document distributed to prospective buyers last year and published by analyst Ken Doctor, Forbes said it expected to generate profits of $21 million on sales of $145 million in 2013. Forbes CEO Mike Perlis wouldn’t comment on those figures, but said the company has “delivered on our plans, consistently, over the past six years.”
In 2006, investor Elevation Partners bought 45 percent in Forbes for about $265 million, and subsequently wrote most of that investment down as Forbes and other business magazines struggled. Elevation sold all of its stake in the new deal.
Forbes magazine dates back to 1917, but didn’t really hit its stride as a mainstream publication until the 1960s, when it earned a reputation for both lionizing and criticizing business moguls. Today the company is primarily driven by its website, which relies heavily on contributors who write for little or no pay. Forbes.com has a U.S. audience of 28.5 million users, according to Comscore.
Conventional wisdom in media circles was that any Forbes buyer would be interested in the high-traffic, low-cost Web platform the company had built in recent years, and/or the appeal of the Forbes brand, particularly for international audiences.
Integrated Whale Media Investments describes itself as a “a newly formed Hong Kong-based international investor group,” led by Tak Cheung Yam, the head of investment company Integrated Asset Management (Asia) Limited. ASUSTeK Computer co-founder Wayne Hsieh is also an investor in the group.
In a press release announcing the deal, Tak Cheung Yam said his group is “investing in the Forbes brand, history, family involvement and a management team that is successfully transforming the company.” The company says that Forbes’s current management, including Steve Forbes and Perlis, will continue in their roles.