For all the startups and upstarts that moved to Tampa Bay or went public in 2021, it was the biggest deals that rocked the boat the most.
From a merger that spawned the area’s largest public company to a local startup that hit a billion-dollar “unicorn” valuation, this year brought an unusually hefty slate of billion-dollar sales, acquisitions and earnings sheets to Tampa Bay C suites. Some of them are likely to have a big impact on local employment and investment for years to come.
Every deal and investment is different. But a combination of evolving corporate models, low interest rates and Florida’s generally favorable business environment made 2021 a particularly viable year for such megadeals, said Zac Smith, a senior vice president with financial advisory firm Embark, which specializes in corporate mergers and acquisitions.
“Fed rates are low, capital is cheap,” Smith said. “Despite everything we’re hearing on the news — and I think Florida is different as a whole — people feel more comfortable operating in this environment. Now is the time to cash in on some of those deals. People are making some money and really able to capitalize.”
There’s surely more ahead in 2022, as the Rays (valued by Forbes this summer at $1 billion) ponder their future home (or homes); and the $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development wraps its first phase and begins work on its second. At least one Fortune 500 company, said to be Foot Locker, is exploring moving its corporate headquarters to St. Petersburg. And billions in federal infrastructure funding and unspent pandemic relief may flow into the region.
But before we get there, let’s revisit 10 of this year’s 10-figure deals that reshaped Tampa Bay’s corporate landscape.
Tech Data becomes TD Synnex
At the time it was sold to private equity firm Apollo Global Management in 2020, Largo’s Tech Data was Tampa Bay’s largest public company, with annual revenues around $37 billion, good enough for a spot in the Fortune 100. Its private phase ended up lasting less than a year. The technology distribution company in March announced an $8.3 billion merger with Fremont, Calif.’s Synnex, creating a corporation with combined annual revenues of $57 billion, 22,000 employees and 150,000 clients in more than 100 countries. The newly rechristened TD Synnex is co-headquartered in Fremont and Largo with significant operations near Greenville, S.C. Tech Data CEO Rich Hume, who still lives in the area, stayed on as TD Synnex’s CEO. All of that makes TD Synnex Tampa Bay’s largest public company, even if it’s only half-headquartered here.
The war for Welbilt
As restaurants struggled early in the pandemic, so did New Port Richey commercial kitchen equipment supplier Welbilt, perennially one of Tampa Bay’s largest public companies. That didn’t stop Illinois competitor Middleby Corp. from offering a 28 percent premium for Welbilt shares in an April all-stock offer worth $4.3 billion. Within weeks, Welbilt had a second offer on the table, an all-cash, $3.3 billion deal from Italian holding company the Ali Group that represented a 44 percent markup on Welbilt’s mid-April price. Both companies upped their offers, and in the end, Welbilt’s board and shareholders went with the Ali Group for $3.5 billion. The deal is expected to close in early 2022.
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Sykes gets sold
Few companies loomed larger over the Tampa corporate landscape than Sykes Enterprises — literally, in the case of downtown’s Rivergate Tower, which bore the company’s logo. Since relocating to Tampa in 1993, the family-run corporate support and services company has been a prominent sponsor of local events, with founder John Sykes and his son Chuck Sykes donating millions to the University of Tampa and other causes. It seemed to come out of nowhere, then, when Sykes announced in June that it was selling to private Miami customer service firm the Sitel Group. The $2.2 billion all-cash deal closed in August, removing one of the city’s defining corporate brands from the public sphere.
Raymond James’ big buy
If this was a trillion-dollar deals list, Raymond James Financial might be the only company on it — the St. Petersburg wealth management firm has reported more than $1 trillion in assets under management every quarter since late 2020. But it was Raymond James’ $1.1 billion acquisition of Pittburgh’s TriState Capital Holdings that earned it a spot here. RayJay is not known for splashy buys like this one, designed to bolster the company’s banking arm. “Sometimes people think we’re too deliberate and we’re hoarding capital,” Raymond James chairperson and CEO Paul Reilly said at the time. “But we’ve always said we’re going to strike when we think it’s a great deal for shareholders in the long term.” TriState Capital is expected to remain its own brand when the deal closes in 2022.
Midtown scores twice
When Tampa staffing and professional services firm Kforce announced in April it was selling its Ybor City headquarters, executives said they were looking for a smaller but still desirable space for its hybrid workforce. When Primo Water announced in November that it, too, was moving its Tampa headquarters, the plan was to move someplace bigger. Turns out they both found the same place. Kforce and Primo Water — both among Tampa’s 10 largest public companies, with annual revenues over $1 billion — agreed to leases at Midtown West, a new office building at $500 million mixed-use development Midtown Tampa. Even though most of their employees are spread around the world, having two billion-dollar tenants headquartered in one building is a rarity in Florida, and a coup for the nascent development. Almost as much as getting Tampa’s first Shake Shack.
In comes Signode
The Tampa Bay region is home to a handful of billion-dollar private corporations, from Publix to Bealls to Rooms to Go. Another joined the mix this summer in Signode, a company that manufactures packaging equipment for industrial storage and shipping, and announced a headquarters relocation from the Chicago area to Tampa. Signode leaders say the company has annual revenues of $2 billion, and its move to the area will bring 200 jobs here by next summer — as well as clients from the Americas and beyond. “Tampa is a great place to bring customers down, and we’ll continue to do that,” said Michael Watts, Signode’s senior vice president of business and strategy.
Syniverse is back
A decade ago, Tampa mobile and cloud telecom company Syniverse sold to a private equity firm for $2.6 billion in cash. This summer, it reached a deal to return to the New York Stock Exchange through a merger with a public New York special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that gives the combined company a valuation of $2.8 billion. Syniverse said the merger and investments from other companies will give it a $1.2 billion cash infusion — approximately double its 2020 revenue, but about where it hopes to be by 2025. When the deal goes through in the first quarter of 2022, Syniverse will once again be one of Tampa Bay’s largest public companies.
Nestle sells Zephyrhills
Multibillion-dollar deals involving European mega-conglomerates rarely have a direct impact on Tampa Bay. That wasn’t the case in February, when Nestle announced plans to sell its North American bottled water operations as part of a deal worth $4.6 billion. Among them: Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water, founded in Pasco County in 1964. The facility pumps water out of nearby Crystal Springs and employs some 400 workers. Little appears to have changed in the hands of the investment firms that now own Zephyrhills, said Melonie Monson, president and CEO of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce. “The transition has seemed to go well,” she said in an email. “The new company is working on increasing staff, and they are adding a new manufacturing line. They have been great community partners and we are excited to see the progress they have made in a short amount of time.”
ReliaQuest is a unicorn
Few Tampa Bay companies have ever hit “unicorn” status, the term used for startups that have seen their valuation grow to more than $1 billion. The latest is ReliaQuest, which announced this month it had hit the coveted mark. Founded in 2007, the cybersecurity company has raised hundreds of millions as it’s grown into one of Tampa Bay’s most successful tech giants. It’s gotten so large that in 2022 it plans to move its headquarters from Harbour Island to the top seven floors of a new office tower in Water Street Tampa. In the next couple of years, it will look at going public. “This is the greatest technical challenge of our generation, cybersecurity,” said founder and CEO Brian Murphy. “We have a lot of important customers and a lot of important team members, and there’s a lot of possible (goals) left to chase.”
LazyDays hits a milestone
The pandemic’s recreational vehicle boom has given Tampa Bay another billion-dollar company. Earlier this month, Thonotosassa’s LazyDays Holdings announced it had surpassed $1 billion in revenues in 2021, a record for the company founded in 1976 and public since 2018. The company is now up to 16 RV dealerships, as well as “rapid sales and earnings growth,” chairperson and CEO Bill Murnane said in a statement. After a billion-dollar calendar year in 2021, the company could be looking at a billion-dollar fiscal year in 2022.