Leslie Turk

Ace Group selling out?

by Leslie Turk

Widespread speculation is circulating in the local transportation industry that one of Acadiana's largest privately held companies, The Ace Group, is being sold to Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. WCAS is the New York-based private equity investment firm that last year bought a controlling interest in Lafayette's Venture Transport.

WCAS' Web site pegs Venture's annual revenues at $178 million; The Ace Group, which consists of Ace Transportation and Dynasty Transportation along with other entities, is a significantly larger operation.

Ace's chief financial officer, Brad Cohen, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Its two principals, James Glasgow and Bill Busbice Jr., were out of the office today and unavailable for comment.

A spokeswoman for WCAS did not return phone calls placed yesterday and this morning.

WCAS may be in the market for more companies, says Mike Coatney, president of Harvey-based Acme Truck Line, which has four offices in the Lafayette area. But Coatney said this morning that his company is not interested. "There is a lot of private equity money out there," he says. "I get calls just about every week."

Coatney, 49, maintains that his employees will eventually own the company, which his father bought in 1972 and he purchased in 2000. "We're selling to the employees," he says. Acme started an Employee Stock Ownership Plan last year and in May will notify more than 1,300 employees (1,100 drivers) how many shares they have been allocated.

Acme does about $180 million in annual revenue and is a close competitor of Ace and Dynasty. The three companies primarily service the oil sector. "We're having some of the best years we've ever had," Coatney says. Rising fuel costs have not adversely affected his company's bottom line, he notes, because fuel costs are built into the rates.

WCAS is the largest private equity firm focused on two industry sectors: health care and information/business services. Established in 1979, it manages total capital of more than $16 billion.