Ronald Lauder, a former US Ambassador to Austria, investigations have shown, is a major figure in Alta Semper Capital, the United Kingdom private equity management firm seeking to forcefully seize Nigerian-founded pharmacy retail chain, HealthPlus.
Lauder, Chairman of Clinique Laboratories, a subsidiary of the Estée Lauder Company, one of the world’s leading skin care products manufacturers and marketers, co-founded the firm in 2015 with Harvard-trained Afsane Jetha, CEO of the firm.
Alta Semper Capital which, last month attempted to oust HealthPlus founder, Mrs. Bukky George, also has as investors Richard Parsons, Chairman of Rockefeller Foundation; International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank; family office of Ronald Lauder and the family office of Dick Parsons, former Chairman of Citigroup and the former Chairman & CEO of Time Warner/CNN.
The equity firm describes itself as “a dedicated frontier-markets private equity firm investing flexible and strategic capital in healthcare and consumer opportunities across African growth markets”. Aside from HealthPlus, which it is seeking to take over, Alta Semper has completed the acquisition of Macro Group, Egypt’s leading medicalized cosmetics and generic pharmaceutical company, where the founder Dr Ahmed El Nayeb, was retained as Executive Chairman. It also has a stake in Morocco’s ODM, the country’s top oncology, radiology and diagnostics platform
Jetha, the co-founder, has been visible in the attempt to sack George from the company she founded, following the strained investment relationship with HealthPlus. She was a signatory to the 25 September letter to the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), claiming that George had been sacked as CEO and replaced with Chief Transformation Officer, one Chidi Okoro.
The equity firm also attempted to take over the finances of HealthPlus, writing to its bankers and payment systems service provider, Upperlink, that there is a change of leadership. In addition, it also attempted to terminate the contract between Prudential Guards Limited, security services providers to HealthPlus. Alta Semper, in a letter to Prudential Guards, demanded that the security company to hand over all the keys to HealthPlus premises in its possession to Jetha and Zachary Fond, a director.
Attempts to remove George have been made without a board resolution, as the company does not currently have a properly constituted board. The five-man board of the company was decimated by the resignation, on 24 September, of Dr Ayo Salami as Chairman and resignation of another member, Deji Akinyanju.
The last meeting of the board held over eight months ago, the reason HealthPlus’ bankers, online payment service providers, security company and landlords ignored communication from Alta Semper. The moves were also in defiance of a Federal High Court injunction, in a suit filed by HealthPlus in May, that all parties to the dispute should maintain status quo.
The HealthPlus saga has provoked angry responses from many players on the Nigerian business founders, who allege that foreign equity firms have treated Nigerian business founders like foot mats. At a recent press conference addressed by the Business Founders Coalition (BFC), a group of entrepreneurs, foreign equity firms were described as threats to Nigerian businesses.
Speaking at the press conference, Dr Richard Ajayi, BFC Coordinator, stated that equity firms are exploiting weak legislations to push out Nigerian business founders. He also called on the government to come up with stiffer laws to protect local business founder from predatory equity investors.
“Our experiences have largely been tales of woe, which have the possibility of stunting the growth of indigenous businesses like ours. We are also hoping that through this coalition, government can enact policies and laws that will correct that apparent lop-sidedness,” Ajayi said.
In recent times, Nigerian-founded companies such as Wakanow, the travel firm; Chicken Republic, a fast food chain; and PathCare, a medical laboratory service provider, have been subjects of forcible takeovers by foreign equity firms.