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GEMS Education reportedly weighing up IPO valued at $4bn

The Dubai-based international schools giant GEMS Education could be gearing up for an initial public offering valued at as much as $4bn and as early as next year, it has been reported.

GEMS Education international schools website - reported IPOGEMS Education could launch an IPO as soon as next year, sources have said.

GEMS is backed by Blackstone Group LP, Fajr Capital Ltd. and the investment arm of the Kingdom of Bahrain

The private equity backed company, one of the world’s largest K-12 providers operating in 13 countries, held meetings with investment banks in Dubai this month, anonymous sources close to the company told Bloomberg.

There were 113,345 students enrolled in GEMS schools in 2017

Meanwhile, GEMS and its financial advisor Rothschild & Co. are reportedly looking to appoint banks to underwrite a potential listing.

However, a final decision on whether to float the company has yet to be made.

GEMS is currently backed by private equity firms Blackstone Group LP and Fajr Capital Ltd., as well as the investment arm of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Co, which together took a “significant minority stake” in the company in 2014.

The company has its roots in a schools group founded by KS and Mariama Varkey in 1968. It was then expanded by their son Sunny Varkey, who founded GEMS in 2000 as an advisory and educational management firm before taking the schools worldwide.

It has been private equity backed since 2007, when a 25% stake was sold to the UAE’s largest PE firm, Abraaj Equity.

But the company remains fundamentally a “family-backed enterprise”, according to executive director Dino Varkey.

Speaking to The PIE News in 2015, Varkey said: “We will never exit this business.”

“Of course we have had strategic investors in the past and continue to have those conversations, but fundamentally, the family’s been doing this for three generations,” he said. “This is what we do; it’s in our DNA.”

“I don’t think there are many organisations around the world that are based on that, which fundamentally is better business anyway,” he added.

“We have had strategic investors, but fundamentally, the family’s been doing this for three generations”

GEMS Education reported unaudited earnings of $539.1m for the six months to February 2017 – up 18% from the same period the year before. Growth was driven by an increase in student numbers, increased average revenue per student and the acquisition of new schools, it said.

There were 113,345 students enrolled in GEMS schools in 2017 – up 10.7% from the year before.

And further growth is in the pipeline, with “a number of new school projects” expected to open in the UAE in the next two years, according to a trading update. There are also plans to expand capacity at its existing schools.

GEMS declined to comment on the reported IPO. “As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on rumours or speculation,” a GEMS spokesperson told The PIE News:

If it goes ahead, the listing has the potential to be one of the highest-valued in the global international education industry.

Earlier this year, private higher education group Laureate Education raised close to half a billion dollars on the Nasdaq.

And Nord Anglia Education, another of the world’s largest international schools providers, raised $340m in an IPO in 2014, before being taken private again in a $4.3bn deal earlier this year.

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