Education group Navitas buys SAE Group from former rich list member Tom Misner for $289 million

Navitas, the listed education provider founded by Rich 200 member Rod Jones, has swooped on well-known sound and audio training group SAE Group, paying $289 million to buy 47 campuses across 14 countries.

SAE Group was founded in 1976 by former Rich 200 member Tom Misner, who departed the rich list in 2007 with a fortune of $289 million.

While Misner has previously claimed he is worth up to $1 billion, the Navitas deal finally shines a light on the actual value of the global SAE business, which has 8,000 students enrolled.

Rod Jones, who returned to the rich list in 2010 with a fortune of $295 million – made up almost entirely of his stake in Navitas – says the acquisition will boost Navitas’ total student numbers to 50,000 and allow the company to diversify away from its reliance on international students.

“With its focus on domestic students, SAE provides Navitas with diversification of our student profile and earnings base as well, as providing us with an opportunity to leverage our international student recruitment expertise to grow SAE,” Jones said in a statement.

“Education and skills training is a business we excel in and we are confident that we can add value to SAE within the Navitas Group,” said Rod Jones.

The deal, which will be funded through $175 million of debt, $100 million in equity and $19 million in shares for the vendor, will produce “high single digit” earnings growth in the 2010-11 financial year.

However, while Navitas said yesterday it is trading in line with market expectations, it has warned it is facing “headwinds” in its Australian business, where student numbers have been put under pressure by the state of the global economy, the high Australian dollar and changes to immigration regulations.

The deal is the biggest in the career of Tom Misner, who is based in Byron Bay which is also the home of SAE’s state-of-the-art Australian headquarters.

While reports of the size of Misner’s fortune has ranged from $1 billion to $500 million, the fact the Austrian immigrant’s empire has been run out of the Netherlands for many years has made it difficult to get a hold on his fortune.

Misner has made much of the fact he is considered an outsider in the sound engineering world, but the fact he has managed to build a globally-recognised training business with tens of thousands of graduates means he is one of the most recognised figures in the industry.

Misner’s business secrets were even examined in a book called The Misner Factor, in which he discusses his various clashes with others in the industry, his notoriously poor treatment of staff and his expansion strategy.

“Find a gap in a market, think big, look even bigger and provide a decent service. Then exploit the dreams of others to the full. With some luck, and a bit of commonsense… anything’s possible, isn’t it?” he says in the book.

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