The private equity fund which owns a stake in Bullitt Group, the branded mobile phone designer, is to surrender control of the business less than 18 months after acquiring it in a £100m deal.
Sky News understands that Exponent Private Equity, which has successfully backed companies including Quorn and Trainline, is expected to agree to a restructuring of Bullitt’s finances in the coming weeks.
The change of control is expected to see the Business Growth Fund (BGF) – a £2.5bn vehicle set up by the UK’s biggest high street lenders in the aftermath of the financial crisis – play a leading role in Bullitt’s future.
People close to the talks said that an auction of Bullitt, which had been triggered by a large volume of unsold inventory, had resulted in a proposal led by the BGF, an existing shareholder in the business, and the company’s co-founders.
If concluded, the deal would crystallise a rare disappointment for Exponent, which has seen each of its funds make impressive returns for investors since the firm was set up more than a decade ago.
Among the other businesses it has backed are Loch Lomond Whisky, which it continues to own, and Radley, the designer handbag maker.
Bullitt’s financial downturn is understood to have been triggered by a failed product launch for Land Rover, coupled with weak trading.
The company designs branded phones for companies such as Kodak, and markets them on their ability to endure rugged environments.
It also has a licence to make phones for Caterpillar, the heavy machinery maker.
The BGF originally invested in Bullitt in 2013, with Exponent buying a 65% stake in the summer of 2017.
Its most recent accounts filed at Companies House showed a strong performance in 2017, with 40% sales growth by volume of devices and a modest improvement in earnings.
As part of Exponent’s investment, the company drafted in Pieter Knook, a former Microsoft executive, as its chairman.
The BGF and Exponent declined to comment.