Jonathan Milner, the founder of UK life sciences company Abcam Plc, has fired the starting gun on a campaign to persuade investors to reject a $5.7 billion takeover offer from Danaher Corp.
(Bloomberg) — Jonathan Milner, the founder of UK life sciences company Abcam Plc, has fired the starting gun on a campaign to persuade investors to reject a $5.7 billion takeover offer from Danaher Corp.
Milner, who has a 6.1% stake in the Cambridge-based company, has said the $24 a-share offer grossly undervalues Abcam, which sells antibodies used in scientific research.
He has written to shareholders Thursday to invite them to vote against the deal. Milner, who stepped down as deputy chair in 2020, wants to return to the company as full time chief executive officer, replacing Alan Hirzel. He has appointed advisers from Peel Hunt to support his campaign by speaking to shareholders and advising on a potential dual-listing in London.
“I left a ship that was in really good shape and it got navigated into choppy waters,” said Milner, in an interview in London. He said the company could command a higher price from a buyer with him leading it. “You’ve got to compare that price with the price that we could get if this company either had a bidder that was willing to give a premium or as a standalone company under competent leadership.”
Milner’s campaign at Abcam began in May, when he asked for a board seat, pushing to take a more active role in influencing governance, performance and direction. In June, Abcam said it would pursue a strategic review, and on Aug. 28 Danaher, a maker of laboratory equipment and other supplies, said it would acquire the company.
The deal price per share was 40% higher than Abcam’s on May 16, the company said. That was the day before Milner began his public campaign.
“Abcam is aware Dr. Jonathan Milner opposes the transaction despite being unaware of the full details,” which will be published at a later date, the company said in a statement.
Milner has argued that the strategic review was launched at a time of poor performance for Abcam, and when sector valuations were depressed. “Put simply, $24 per share is the wrong price at the wrong time for a company which is a globally recognized brand in the life sciences sector,” Milner wrote in the letter. He is calling on them to vote against the deal on a proxy form which will be delivered to Abcam.
Milner’s plan, should he succeed, is to cut costs, improve margins and resume dividend payments. “The best defense against these low-ball offers is to build value in the company so that you’re fully valued and then you’re expensive,” he said.
Milner founded Abcam in 1998, spinning it out from Cambridge University. The company was listed on London’s AIM in 2005 and on Nasdaq in 2020. It dropped its UK listing last year, in a move that Milner said in hindsight was a mistake. “New York is not the panacea that everybody thinks it is. There is still money to be made here.”
Abcam needs 75% of shareholders to back the transaction for it to go ahead. “I probably only need another 5-10% and I’ve got enough to block the takeover,” said Milner.
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