TIMCO executives relive sale

Aug. 20--GREENSBORO -- Try selling one of the world's largest aircraft maintenance companies.

In secret.

With more than a dozen international prospects tramping through a Greensboro hotel display setup.

For two months.

Now, maybe you can see the challenges that TIMCO Aviation Services faced when it tried to sell the company.

It was the first time TIMCO executives have told the story of its acquisition by Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. -- or HAECO -- in 2013.

Executives of one of the Triad's largest employers spoke at a global business conference Tuesday at Grandover Resort and Conference Center.

The TIMCO presentation was one of many at the Global Opportunities Summit, whose goal was to expose local companies to ideas that can teach them ways to find business beyond the United States.

Aviation played a big part in the summit because Triad leaders believe TIMCO and Honda Aircraft Co. could lead the way toward an economic future beyond traditional manufacturing.

But speakers also talked about communicating with companies worldwide, building a more sophisticated local workforce and starting companies with global business possibilities.

Which brings us to the TIMCO story.

TIMCO, which maintains, repairs and overhauls large jet aircraft at Piedmont Triad International Airport, said in October 2013 that it was being acquired by HAECO for $388.8 million.

But the route to the HAECO deal was a long, hard one that stretched through endless days across the world's time zones and required TIMCO to winnow 100 potential buyers down to four.

"The tough thing with going global with the (mergers and acquisition) process is the clock never stopped," said Kevin Carter, TIMCO's CEO.

The process seemed simple at first.

TIMCO's owner, Owl Creek Asset Management, agreed with TIMCO executives that it was a good time to sell: The company had weathered the recession and was well-fixed for business that allowed it to expand its complement of 3,200 workers in North America.

When the first bid came in, however, Owl Creek realized it didn't really know how to set a price for TIMCO.

So TIMCO hired Jeffries & Co. investment bankers to put TIMCO on the open market.

Jeffries brought back news that 100 potential buyers were out there.

Once TIMCO had narrowed that number down to 14, the serious work began.

Carter said the company built mock-ups of TIMCO's aircraft interiors in spaces at the Greensboro-High Point Marriott Airport.

As part of its overhaul business, TIMCO builds ultra-luxury sleeping pods for high-dollar passengers and cattle-car seating for those flying coach. So, the buyers wanted to touch and see the work.

They also checked out TIMCO's seat factory in Davidson County, which is ready for expansion.

One Chinese group got a look at where TIMCO proposes to relocate the entrance.

The executives looked out the door, turned around and said, "The deal's off," according to Kip Blakely, a TIMCO vice president.

A funeral home stood nearby.

That violated the Chinese system of feng shui, which seeks to harmonize architecture with its environment.

Before the deal was done, TIMCO entertained two groups of Chinese executives.

"You can imagine having two Chinese delegations in Greensboro, North Carolina, and trying to hide them," Blakely said.

Toward the end, TIMCO executives spent hours in conference calls with executives in the United Kingdom, Asia and the United States as they struggled to connect in different time zones.

HAECO opens up a massive array of opportunities for TIMCO to grow, Blakely said, and the new buyer gets a company that knows how to make the fine interiors that the world's top airlines demand for their high-dollar customers.

"Our biggest customers," he said, "are their biggest customers."

Copyright 2014 - News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.