Esprinet CEO on plans for €180m-revenue GTI business and refusing to 'quit the race' during a pandemic

Josh Budd
clock • 6 min read

Alessando Cattani tells CPI he plans to move GTI and Esprinet staff into a new office in Madrid, and discusses plans to build out business in Portugal

"When the pandemic exploded, I gathered virtually with all the management and I said: there are two ways of dealing with this situation.

 "One is to hide ourselves and wait for the storm to be over, but the other is to accelerate and try to use this time not as a moment to stop, but as a moment of acceleration."

That's according to the CEO of the largest IT distributor in Italy and Spain, who only a few weeks ago inked a €33.8m deal to acquire GTI Group - Spain's sixth largest distributor with annual revenues of €180m.

The acquisition will boost Esprinet's advanced solutions business, which includes datacentre, cybersecurity and cloud products, to around €750m in pro-forma revenues, making it the second largest value-added player in the Spanish market.

Despite Spain being one of Europe's earliest and hardest-hit by the COVID-19 crisis, sending Spain's GDP spiralling by 5.2 per cent in Q1 as a result of COVID-19 lockdown measures, Cattani said he doesn't believe now is the right time to "quit the race" in IT distribution.

The Esprinet CEO admitted that pursuing an acquisition of Spain's sixth largest distributor in this landscape was a bold and even risky move, but he believes that his decision to keep running the race rather than quitting has paid off.

"There will be competitors that decide to stop, and so the compounded effect of them quitting the race and us accelerating in the race will result in there being a further distance between us and them."

"It was a major bet on the future - the future of our industry, first and foremost, and then on the future of Esprinet. Seeing as the COVID situation is evolving in a slightly friendlier way now, I think it was the right move."

From initial negotiations to due diligence - the deal to acquire GTI was made entirely through "lengthy and tiring" videoconferencing calls, Cattani said.

But now the deal has been agreed, Esprinet has got its hands on Spain's leading cloud and software distributor.

Before acquiring GTI Group, Esprinet's advanced solutions business in Spain was turning over just north of €100m in revenues, compared to around €400m in its Italian homeland.

GTI will add €62.4m-worth in cloud solutions and as-a-service revenues to Esprinet, as well as new vendor relationships with Adobe, Microsoft and Red Hat among others.

The deal will also give Esprinet an entirely new business in the auto ID and data capture market, through GTI's relationship with vendors including Zebra, Ruckus and Plantronics.

Next steps for GTI

Cattani said that Esprinet's Vinzeo subsidiary and most of its advanced solutions team is based very close to GTI's headquarters in the north of Madrid.

But with the leases on both Esprinet's and GTI's Madrid offices expiring next year, Cattani said he plans to move both teams under the same roof.

The combined team will comprise of around 250 to 260 staff.

"It will definitely help us increase synergies, because we will probably save something in the lease contract, optimizing space. In time it could create more synergies between the existing Esprinet group advanced solution team and the newcomers from GTI," he said.

Despite his plans to relocate both teams into a single office, Cattani said it is not his intention to integrate GTI's business with the rest of Esprinet's advanced solutions.

As with Esprinet's acquisition of Vinzeo in 2016, GTI will be kept as a separate unit. Cattani said that this will give Esprinet's customers more choice as to which subsidiary they want to work with, and will also enable Esprinet to make use of multiple credit lines from multiple credit insurance companies.

"GPI is extremely, extremely focused on software and cloud, but not really much into devices. Software and especially cloud is a huge chunk of their sales. They have developed specific expertise and software tools to enable the provisioning of cloud solutions for their customers," he said.

"So we don't see significant advantages in merging the two companies - quite the opposite. The risk would be to disrupt a very well-tuned machine that is adaptive to the cloud environment."

And there's no plans to integrate GTI on the back end either, said Cattani. As a software distributor, GTI only operates one small warehouse manned by seven people.

While Cattani doesn't want to mess with GTI's winning formula, he does believe the software distributor could help Esprinet grow its footprint in Portugal - a country that has long been an expansion target.

Cattani believes Esprinet only has a three to four per cent share of Portugal's €1.2bn distribution market, compared to the 25 to 30 per cent share it enjoys in Italy and Spain.

Esprinet has been gradually growing its Portuguese base over the years, and only last year opened its first warehouse facility in the country.

The CEO also said that he will be looking closely at any businesses up for sale in Portugal as a potential M&A target.

GTI has a legal entity in Lisbon, mainly selling cloud and advanced solutions, which Cattani thinks he could leverage to grow its existing Portuguese customer base further.

The purchase also opens up a new business in Africa for Esprinet, through GTI's existing base in Casablanca, Morocco from which it sells software and cloud solutions to around 30 African countries, according to Cattani.

The CEO admitted that he doesn't know how much potential lies in the African market, but said that GTI's former owners believe it holds huge potential.

"We will see if there's such an interesting opportunity as the former GPI owner and the management team told us," he said.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit Italy and Spain in early March, Esprinet issued a statement to the industry proclaiming that it is still open for business.

Esprinet's entire workforce across Italy and Spain were asked to work from home from Monday 9 March.

The distributor already had a flexible working policy before COVID-19 hit, with most employees allowed to work remotely two days a week.

Because of this, Esprinet already had the systems in place to immediately switch to a five-day week of remote working, claims Cattani.

The Esprinet CEO said that, thankfully, only three Esprinet employees were infected by COVID-19 during the lockdown period.

After a bleak April, where Esprinet's sales to retailers effectively ground to a halt, Cattani said that the Italian and Spanish IT markets are now bouncing back. Consumer electronic sales have recovered now that stores have reopened, he said.

Figures from analyst firm Context seem to agree, claiming that sales through Europe's distributors surged during the month of June. Italy was one of Europe's fastest growing markets during the month, with distribution sales up 38 per cent, with Spain hitting 19 per cent.

"We experienced a dip, but the market is recovering pretty well," said Cattani. "And we as a company have been up and running at full steam ahead during all this time."

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