Fairfax-controlled Thomas Cook may spin out business services arm Quess through IPO

Bangalore-based global business services provider Quess Corp Ltd (formerly known as IKYA Human Capital Solutions Ltd), a subsidiary of tour operator Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, is evaluating various funding options, including an initial public offer (IPO), according to a stock market disclosure.

It did not say if the proposed IPO may happen in India or overseas and whether the firm may also look at private equity funding as an alternative.

If it goes ahead with the public issue, it would make it the second listed firm for Canada's Fairfax in India.

Quess Corp was acquired by Thomas Cook in early 2013 for Rs 256 crore. The deal marked an exit for India Equity Partners (IEP), which invested in IKYA back in 2008.

IKYA was founded by serial entrepreneur Ajit Isaac, who sold his PeopleOne Consulting to Swiss staffing giant Adecco in 2004. IEP invested $8 million in IKYA in 2008 and also infused more cash over the years. IKYA built its business through an inorganic strategy, buying Avon Facility Management in 2008 and Coachieve Solutions in 2009 and then Hyderabad-based tech staffing firm Magna Infotech for Rs 100 crore in 2010.

Till two years ago, it offered human resource services including search, recruitment, project-based hiring, general and professional staffing, skill development and facility management to more than 500 corporate houses. It had 32 offices and 1,400 team members till then.

Once under Thomas Cook, it continued its acquisition spree while diversifying in various lines. It now provides services under four verticals - global technology, industrial asset management, integrated facilities management and people & services.

The company currently has 90,000 employees and operates in 32 cities of India, the North America, Middle East and South East Asia. It has annual revenues of over Rs 2,400 crore.

Last month it agreed to acquire NYSE-listed Aramark's Mumbai-based facility management arm for an undisclosed amount.

Last year it also acquired Chennai-based Hofincons Infotech & Industrial Services from Australian firm Transfield Services and signed a definitive agreement with ultimate parent Fairfax to acquire 49 per cent stake in its US-based wholly-owned subsidiary MFXchange Holdings Inc.

It is now bigger than Thomas Cook (India). The proposed plan to spin it out would allow investors to value it separate from the travel and tour business of its parent.

Canada's Fairfax has been ramping up its India play both directly and indirectly. While it has championed the inorganic growth strategy and transformation of Quess, it has also created a new investment vehicle to invest in India.

Prem Watsa-led Fairfax Financial Holdings completed a public issue of shares of a new unit Fairfax India Holdings Corporation in Canada, raising around $561 million in the process last month. This took the total corpus of the vehicle to over $1 billion with Fairfax itself having committed $300 million to it besides other cornerstone investors chipping in with additional $200 million.

This unit, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), is expected to make control-oriented private equity style investments in India.

On Thursday, shares of Thomas Cook closed the day at Rs 208.85, up 0.70 per cent from its previous close on the BSE in weak Mumbai market.

(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)

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