Who are the Rhone Group that are reportedly weighing up Liverpool bid?

Rumours are abound in the press about the potential bid from private equity firm Rhone Group. The Group is estimated to be worth around $4..5billion according to Private Equity News but don’t get any hopes of lavish spending if the group take a controlling stake in Liverpool Football Club. Both Robert Agostinelii and Steven Langman, who co-founded the group back in 1997, are shrewd businessman and would most likely see the acquisition as a long term investment considering the untapped potential that LFC has worldwide. There maybe some concerns for Reds fans about the Group though. The firm specialises in mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances as well as leveraged buyouts. The last of these is of most concern; the Reds have already suffered at the hands of such a buyout when Hicks and Gillett saddled debt onto the club. Rhone appear not to be pursuing this road though considering the low nature of the rumoured offer. The £118million estimation for a 40% stake seems to suggest that they will be using cash rather than a loan to secure their investment, reducing the leverage on the club and putting the club on a far more sound financial footing. It makes sense for the Group to do this so it can make a good return on its investment, improving the capital structure and making the club more profitable in the long term. So what of the two founders of the Rhone Group, would they be anything like Hicks and Gillett? If anything Agostinelli and Langman are less involved than sport than Hicks and Gillett but this maybe no bad thing, keeping their distance and doing their business quietly (such as Randy Lerner does at Aston Villa) could prove to be a positive move, however, at the end of the day, both are businessman and will want a return on their investment. So what can we expect from the pair?

Robert F. Agostinelli – An Italian-American businessman, Agostinelli made his name in the 1980s with Goldman Sachs in Mergers and Acquisitions before moving to Lazards as a partner where he worked with Langman. The pair then co-founded the Rhone Group in 1997 and made their money in their area of expertise (Mergers and Acquisitions). They have offices in London, New York and Paris and they have notable clients such as Nestle. Keen to not be seen as another American investor in Liverpool, Agostinelli has profiled Rhone as an international firm, although it is clear the base of the firm is in the Big Apple. Personally, Agostinelli is married to Mathilde, a publicist for Prada, and who is also coincidentally a close friend to Nicolas Sarkozy’s ex wife Cecilia. This is where Agostinelli’s political affiliations become clear. Like Hicks, Agostinelli donates to the Republican Party and provided campaign money for Rudy Giuliani and John McCain’s presidential campaigns. He is known for his neo-conservative views and his political activism was demonstrated by sitting on the Council of Foreign Relations, a bi-partisan think-tank. He also praised both Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi for their leadership in their respective countries, and even financed Sarkozy’s trip to the US in 2006. He is a champion for conservative causes and describes himself as a ‘classical liberal’ and clearly has friends in powerful places. A man with greased back black hair, a suave sophisticated lifestyle and a person with extravagant tastes, he would certainly be an interesting character to take over Liverpool.

Steven Langman – Like Agostinelli, Langman is an expert in Mergers and Acquistions. His experience in such roles goes back to his time at Goldman Sachs in the 1980s before, like Agostinelli, he moved to Lazards in 1987 to be a partner. Similarly also to Agostinelli, Langman has spent equal amounts of time in both New York and London over the last 30 years. After achieving a B.A with the highest of honours from the University of North Carolina, he achieved a M.Sc. from the London School of Economics before working for Goldman Sachs and Lazards in London. No doubt, with his experience of working in England, he is aware of the worldwide marketing potential of Liverpool, and it is one of the main reasons why Rhone is interested in the club. After leaving Lazards to set up the Rhone Group in 1997 with Agostinelli, he, as Managing Director of Rhone, has served on the boards of several private companies controlled by Rhône Capital LLC, including NationsRent and Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream. It would be safe to say that if the rumoured bid from Rhone was accepted by Liverpool, Langman will be a central figure in the club’s future financial plans.

Are they the right people to takeover the club? Time will tell if they are any better than Hicks and Gillett but in the Reds current financial position, any potential cash investment will be welcomed.