Tuesday "Melbourne Age":
US billionaire joins Fox-Lew bid
By MALCOLM MAIDEN
AND STATHI PAXINOS
Tuesday 18 December 2001
ISSUES 2001: Ansett crisis
Lindsay Fox and Solomon Lew have recruited two wealthy American businessmen as partners in their their plan to revive Ansett.
David Bonderman, a billionaire Texan investor and Bill Franke, a former airline chief executive, have agreed to take an undisclosed stake in the Fox-Lew bid to take over Ansett from January 31.
The deal means that the Melbourne duo can no longer claim to be mounting a 100 per cent Australian bid, but they gain partners who bring the key asset they lack - hands-on exposure to the airline industry.
Details of the deal were not disclosed, but one of Mr Bonderman's private investment companies, Air Partners, is expected to take more than 30 per cent of the venture, with Mr Fox and Mr Lew retaining majority control.
Bonderman investment companies have been involved with the successful European discount airline Ryanair, of which Mr Bonderman is chairman, and the revival of two US airlines, Continental and America West.
An adviser to the failed staff buy-out bid for Ansett also revealed yesterday that the syndicate had approached Mr Bonderman's group to back their bid.
Mr Bonderman's main private equity vehicle, Texas Pacific, was recently reported to be cashed up after raising $US4 billion and looking for significant investment opportunities, particularly outside the United States.
Mr Fox and Mr Lew had been negotiating for Singapore Airlines to operate a revived Ansett, but the US deal points the Australian duo to an alternative arrangement, coordinated by the Bonderman interests.
The Fox-Lew company, Tesna Holdings, has been selected by Ansett's administrators as preferred bidder for Ansett, and faces a January 31 deadline to complete the purchase.
The deal is yet to finally ratified by Ansett's creditors, however, and Mr Fox and Mr Lew are under pressure to keep up the momentum because Lang Corp and Virgin Air are promoting a rival offer for Ansett assets.
Ansett administrator Mark Mentha said yesterday's announcement did not exclude Singapore from future involvement. But Mr Fox and Mr Lew said that the record of Mr Bonderman and his partners in "building strong management teams and actively managing their airline investments is the preferred outcome".
Mr Fox and Mr Lew said Air Partners would provide "human resources, intellectual and financial capital and an international network of industry relationships to Ansett".
Mr Franke, a former chief executive of America West Airlines, is in partnership with Mr Bonderman in the investment. Mr Franke is now in Australia working with Mr Fox and Mr Lew to compile Ansett's new senior management team.
Mr Bonderman said in a statement that Ansett represented a "unique circumstance" and an opportunity to build value.
The new partners in Ansett were described recently by Business Week as "globe-trotting deal-makers" who had moved aggressively after the September 11 terrorist attacks, announcing a $US660 million acquisition of a Norwegian phone-directory company on September 17, taking control of the third largest silicon wafer maker two weeks later, and in early October launching a $US1.6 billion-plus rescue bid for a struggling German bank.