FEATURE27 July 2011

The making of Synovate

Features News

As Ipsos agrees to buy the market research group Synovate from its owner Aegis, Brian Tarran charts the evolution of the business.

Aegis was a media buying group in 1999 when its CEO Doug Flynn set out to build a global market research group. It made its first acquisition in June of that year with the purchase of the Market Facts business, followed a year later by the $8m takeover of Motoresearch, an automotive research specialist.

But it wasn’t until the purchase of Asia Market Intelligence (AMI) in March 2000 that the plan really stepped up a gear. With AMI came its founder Adrian Chedore, who had moved from the UK to Hong Kong in 1979 for what he thought would be a six-month stint with AGB McNair.

“I happen to have thought that Hong Kong was in the Caribbean – I really did – and six months in the Caribbean sounded like a pretty good idea,” Chedore said in a 2009 interview with a former Time Magazine and Bloomberg editor Anthony Spaeth.

“If we were going to be a serious player we had to try to build a single identity that was hopefully going to mean something and hopefully bring together all of the strengths of those companies”

Adrian Chedore, CEO, 2001–2009

His stay turned out to be longer than expected. After leaving AGB McNair he worked as regional director of Frank Small & Associates from 1985 to 1991, after which he launched AMI.

Ten years later, the business was sold to Aegis in a deal worth up to $80m with Chedore committing to remain with the business for three years.

“Soon after we were acquired,” he told Spaeth, “Doug Flynn and I were sitting by a pool at a conference in Miami. Doug asked me what I was going to do after my three-year contract with the company expired. I said, `I’ll either sit on the beach or run the whole company’.

“He called me a few days later and said, `I can’t wait three years’.”

And so Chedore became CEO of Aegis Research and embarked on a major acquisition drive, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the business was given the name Synovate, a portmanteau of ‘synergy’ and ‘innovation’.

The rebranding exercise was “absolutely enormous”, Chedore told Research in an interview at the time. “I would happily never be involved in one again.”

But rebranding was unavoidable. “In 2001 it was already decided that if we were going to be a serious player we had to try to build a single identity that was hopefully going to mean something and hopefully bring together all of the strengths of those companies,” he said.

Ipsos now faces a similar challenge after agreeing to buy Synovate for £525m. Together the two businesses will become the third biggest research group in the world – but they will unite under the Ipsos banner. “This deal will meet our goals to make the Ipsos brand a worldwide brand,” said Ipsos co-president Didier Truchot.

As for Aegis, it reverts to being predominantly a media buying business. The sale of Synovate, which accounted for some 40% of Aegis 2010 revenue is “the largest structural change” in the history of the group, says current CEO Jerry Buhlmann – at least since it decided to embark on that research venture all those years ago.

Milestones in the making of Synovate, as recorded by Research:

March 2001 – Aegis acquires Pegram Walters, a UK independent, in a deal worth £5m

July 2001 – Acquisition of MEMRB Worldwide’s ad hoc division and Demoscopie of France

January 2002 – Purchase of Japan’s Research Fact for £1m

February 2002 – Takeover of European group Market&More

August 2002 – Purchase of UK firm Sample Surveys in deal worth up to £7.2m

September 2002 – Acquisition of INNER for £3m

January 2003 – Aegis Research relaunches as Synovate

May 2003 – Synovate buys 100% of call centre monitoring firm ViewsCast

October 2003 – Healthcare specialist Isis Research is acquired

February 2004 – Acquires TRBI, a top 10 UK agency

June 2004 – Buys South Africa’s Proactive Insight

February 2005 – Doug Flynn, Aegis CEO, steps down and is replaced by Robert Lerwill

March 2005 – Belgian firm Columbus Quanti is acquired, as is Australian retail sales data firm Aztec

May 2005 – Another Japanese acquisition, Coral Pacific

June 2005 – Synovate buys French group Arteam and Italian firm AMT

September 2005 – Australian firm Market Equity acquired

October 2005 – Amid rumours that Aegis is a bid target, Ipsos co-president Didier Truchot signals interest in Synovate, and WPP chief Martin Sorrell – mulling a move on Aegis – says Synovate is his “primary interest”. Meanwhile, Synovate completes the takeover of Asian youth trends researcher The Filter Group

November 2005WPP passes on an acquisition of Aegis. Synovate acquires Turkey’s Plus Remark

December 2005 – Synovate buys Scandinavian firm Univero

January 2006 – WPP’s Sorrell says he’s still sweet on Synovate

March 2006Robert Philpott, Synovate’s Americas CEO, is promoted to global chief operating officer

January 2007 – Acquires Dutch research firm Interview-NSS

September 2007 – Buys Spain’s Metra Seis

November 2007 – Acquires Research Solutions, a New Zealand firm

December 2007 – Takeover of UK footfall measurement firm SPSL

January 2008 – Buys US firm Oncology Inc and Latin American group CIMA

March 2008 – Acquires UK retail data analyst Peter Seagroatt & Associates

June 2008 – Former AGB chief executive John Napier is named Aegis chairman, replacing Colin Sharman

July 2008 – Synovate buys African research group Steadman

November 2008 – Robert Lerwill makes a shock departure as CEO of Aegis. Napier takes over as interim CEO

December 2008 – Aegis moves its Marketing Management Analytics business into Synovate

January 2009 – There’s speculation in the press that John Napier is embarking on a strategic review of Aegis, that could lead to Synovate being sold off. GfK is talked of as a possible bidder

August 2009 – Synovate CEO Adrian Chedore announces his retirement. Robert Philpott is named his successor. He has to contend with the impact of the recession, including operating losses, and plans a substantial reorganisation of activities. The firm reduces headcount by 10%

May 2010 – Aegis Media CEO Jerry Buhlmann is named group CEO, replacing Robert Lerwill

December 2010 – Acquires majority stake in Russian firm Comcon

March 2011 – Aegis reports its 2010 figures, showing a strong recovery in performance at Synovate after the challenges of 2009

June 2011 – Ipsos is revealed to be in talks about acquiring Synovate. WPP’s Martin Sorrell says he’s no longer interested, nor is GfK, but private equity firm Doughty Hanson is

July 2011 – Ipsos and Aegis agree £525m deal for Synovate

7 Comments

9 years ago

Wot..! No mention of Sample Surveys being acquired? A glaring omission methinks.

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9 years ago

Sample who? Always thinking of herself....

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9 years ago

You also missed the acquisition of Symmetrics in March 2004

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9 years ago

You also forgot to mentioned all the companies ex-Synovate staff set up on their own. I think the list is about 40 firms around the world. Not bad for a technically 8 year old company. Most of these companies are still around and striving hard. Synovate was able to fool clients with some catchy tagline a la Reinvented this / that. You cant fool your own staff.... Adrian Chedore was the company's glue. Once out, we can see what happened to the company... It will now disappear. Ipsos made it very clear that Synovate will be re-branded as Ipsos. No offense to the French, but between Ipsos and Synovate, the latter brand name is nicer. First battle and first loss to Synovate. There will be a few more. Count on the Frogs to make their way. That's their style.

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9 years ago

you also forgot to mentio the acquisition of INNER Strategic Research in 2002

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9 years ago

Fieldwork International was missed

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9 years ago

Good history of the company (only thing missing is acquisition of Blackstone Market Facts in India in September 2003). Strong companies evolve and change through the years just as Synovate has and will continue to do, even if it becomes part of Ipsos (which everyone has to admit is an impressive company - much like Synovate). It's the people that make a company what it is, and Synovate always realised that. Mr Chedore was the perfect leader for the company at the time of its rapid world expansion and Mr Philpott led the company through the tough economic recession and into a strong competitive position again. It's generally a very good sign of your strength when other companies are regularly interested in purchasing you as has happened to Synovate many times during its short eight year life span. It was inevitable that it would happen someday as it happens in most industries.

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