Attempted Purchase of Columbia Helicopters was ‘Horribly Botched,’ According to Bristow Shareholder

An attempt by Bristow Group Inc. to acquire Aurora-based Columbia Helicopters in a $560 million blockbuster deal earlier this year was “horribly botched” by its chief financial officer, according to a scathing public letter from one of Bristow’s largest shareholders.

Bristow Group, which is based in Texas, and Columbia announced the acquisition in late 2018, but it fell apart only a few months later. Instead, Bristow, Columbia and Columbia’s shareholders agreed to release each other from all claims in connection with the purchase agreement and the related transactions, and Bristow has agreed to pay Columbia $20 million for their trouble.

Since then, Bristow’s stock value has…I don’t know if “plummeted” is a strong enough word. According to the letter published this week by Bristow shareholder Global Value Investment Corp, a.k.a. GVIC, Bristow’s common stock closed on April 17 at 52 cents a share, representing a five-year decline of 99.3 percent.

“This decline is unacceptable,” says the letter signed by GVIC President and CEO Jeff Geygan, going on to say that they “question the competence and intent of Bristow’s Board of Directors.”

GVIC’s letter called for the immediate resignations of four members of that board of directors, but they also took issue with the company’s CEO, Don Miller, who was just promoted to that position last month. Previously, he was CFO, and according to GVIC, much of the blame for the collapsed Columbia deal rests with him.

“It was on Mr. Miller’s watch that the financing for Bristow’s proposed acquisition of Columbia Helicopters, Inc. was so horribly botched, resulting in a proposal to dilute existing equity holders by approximately 93 percent,” Geygan alleges.

Given Bristow’s apparent troubles, it seems for the best that Columbia will remain in the hands of the Lematta family and its existing management, at least for the time being. Founded by Wes Lematta in 1957, Columbia is a leader in heavy-lift helicopter operations and manufacture, maintenance, repair and overhaul services. It serves clients across the globe in industries that include defense, firefighting, onshore oil and gas, infrastructure and forestry.

Columbia reported gross revenues of approximately $281 million in the previous 12 months and earnings of $117 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. It operates a fleet of 21 tandem rotor helicopters out of its home airport, Wes Lematta Field at Aurora State Airport.

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