For OMERS Private Equity (OPE), innovation is best described as a channel for value creation. When considering the acquisition of a company, OPE develops a well-grounded investment thesis to determine how to create value under its ownership. One of the most important questions is: What will it take to double the value of the company over the next five years or so?" The answer is multi-faceted, but without question, one of the key considerations that initially guides every investment decision is whether or not a company is engaged in productivity-enhancing innovation.
Essentially, OPE is asking itself if over the span of an investment, a company can achieve double-digit, year-over-year growth, either organically, through acquisitions, or through a combination of both. Experience shows that a company must have specific attributes to enable this level of performance - well-positioned products and services, growth prospects that exceed GDP growth, and a strong management team.
When looking for acquisitions, OPE doesn't necessarily seek out companies that are the market leaders in their fields. More important is our confidence in their ability to improve their prospects and increase their customer bases over time. This potential is usually found in companies that have a culture of innovation rooted in creativity, responsiveness to customer needs, and openness to change. Working closely with the management teams of companies that meet these criteria, OPE achieves results through innovations including those that increase productivity by helping cut costs or make companies more efficient, or that increase sales and customer service through the development of new or improved products.
Take, for example, baked-goods manufacturer Give and Go Prepared Foods (best known for its Two Bite Brownies). OPE was attracted to acquire the business because of the company's strong track record of product innovation, the key success factor in the in-store bakery segment of retail grocers. Working together, OPE and company management developed an innovative plan to deal with rising materials costs. Give and Go invested in automation to lower costs and expand its product configurations. It also invested in a state-of-the-art innovation centre for the development of new products, which eventually included a new line of cupcakes creatively and innovatively packaged in a way that preserved the integrity of the product. That packaging has now been patented.
Another example is laboratory service provider Maxxam Analytics Inc. Maxxam has a national network of laboratories serving customers in the environmental, petroleum, food and DNA and forensics end markets. OPE identified the potential to leverage their leading market position in the Alberta petroleum sector, the biggest commodity play in Canada, as one of the main growth drivers for the coming years.
Following OPE's investment the company has continued its strong tradition of innovation, including a notable, recent breakthrough by its petroleum services team. By designing a proprietary methodology that increased the precision and enhanced detection of higher-value components in gas samples, Maxxam is allowing its customers to get full value for the quality of their production of natural gas liquids in one of the country's most important industries in the western oil sands.
Finally, when OPE invested in plastic molding equipment manufacturer Husky Injection Molding last year, the company had already distinguished itself as a Canadian success story. Looking ahead, with the largest installed base of systems in the world, the most significant growth opportunity for Husky's business is the emerging markets - Asia, Latin America, India and Africa. These markets are characterized with attractive demographic fundamentals, urbanization trends, GDP and consumer spending increases and a growing middle-class population - all of which drive demand for Husky's products. Through on-the-ground research, Husky has gained a deep understanding of the unique needs of each of these markets, and in response has developed products whose sophistication has created high barriers to entry. Its goal is to continue to enhance the product (continuous improvement) and penetrate new markets.
These innovation-based success stories should serve not only as an example of best practices in business but also as case studies for growing enterprises seeking to attract investment capital. OPE is attracted to companies with strong management teams that encourage productivity-enhancing innovation. We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to invest in and work with such companies in Canada as well as in the United States and Europe.