Norwich firm sold in £4.85m deal

A Norwich-based supplier of management information systems to local education authorities has been sold in a £4.85m deal which is set to enhance its national exposure and boost business opportunities.

BILL WOODCOCK, EDP Business Editor

A Norwich-based supplier of management information systems to local education authorities has been sold in a £4.85m deal which is set to enhance its national exposure and boost business opportunities.

Foundation Software Solutions Limited (FSSL), of Whiting Road, has been bought by the quoted Tribal Group, a leading provider of professional support services.

FSSL, which employs 40 people in Norwich, is one of the leading suppliers of management information systems to local education authorities. All the staff have been retained.

The firm has developed a suite of software applications covering areas such as pupil and school records, admissions and transfers, special needs and information systems cover-ing pre-school education providers.

It is now working with more than 85 LEAs, and around 50pc of its annual revenue is underpinned by support and maintenance contracts.

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Anthony Benton, who was one of the sellers, but remains as managing director of FSSL, said the sale to the Tribal Group gave the company greater national exposure.

"It is very good for a little East Anglian company that has done very well on its own and it now bolsters everything we are doing," he said.

"In no way was it a hostile acquisition or a negative move at all. It is very much seen as a natural prog-ression for a relatively small company to join an umbrella organisation that helps us potentially to do lots more.

"We are expanding and we are hoping that being part of a wider group will allow us access to commercial opportunities that we wouldn't have had otherwise. It is good for our future, for expansion and for local jobs.

"The company has been bought very much as an investment and Tribal's approach to business is very hands-off. It lets successful entrepreneurial companies continue to do what they are doing rather than try to mash them together into some sort of hybrid."

In the 12 months to December 31, 2002, FSSL made an operating profit of £480,000 on turnover of £2.1m.

Henry Pitman, chief executive of Tribal Group, said the acquisition would allow the group to extend its range of IT services into the local education authority market.

"We have identified a number of areas where we believe there will be opportunities to accelerate the growth of FSSL within our wider IT offering," he said.

Tribal Group is a leading provider of professional support services in the areas of management consultancy, IT and information management, HR and training, property and architectural services and PR, communication and design services.

Norwich-based law firm Mills & Reeve advised FSSL, Osborne Clarke advised Tribal Group and Addleshaw Booth & Co advised the institutional selling shareholder, 3i.

James Hunter, who led the Mills & Reeve team, said: "FSSL is a company in which venture capitalists 3i made an investment a few years ago and held a shade under 50pc of the shares.

"The sale arose because of the keen interest from Tribal and the belief of the outgoing shareholders that the deal offered the best value and also a secure future for the business going forward."