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Bell vows return to acquisition trail

Paul Kunert

Bell Microproducts, one of the most acquisitive distributors of the early 2000s, is seeking to put its troubles behind it, look for funding and climb back on the acquisition trail again.

The enterprise distributor bought up Ideal Hardware, Open PSL, MCE and a number of smaller outfits across Europe that it initially termed as Baby Bells.

But in more recent years it has been beset with troubles related to accounting errors, discovered in late 2006, that hailed back to the middle of the last decade and cost the company its listing on NASDAQ.

The books are almost up-to-date, the final Q1 and Q2 numbers for 2009 will be filed next month and the situation, along with the downturn, has made the business leaner by improving cash management and cutting costs.

The most difficult consequence of the accounting debacle, other than constant rumours of its demise or sale, has been the inability to get involved in the "acquisition-fest" that has happened in the last few years by Avnet and DNS Arrow.

"We couldn't take part in that process and we would have wanted to, so that has been restrictive," said Bell European president John Toal.

"We want to focus on organic growth over the next six months to see what the economy does, but in 2010 I think we'd look to do some acquisitions," he added.

There are very few privately-owned enterprise players left in the UK given the frenzied consolidation that has already taken place in recent years, but Toal plans to get more heavily involved in networking.

"Networking for me is the big piece we are not in today," he said, adding that the software market could also provide some food for thought as well as others parts of continental Europe.

"In France we do not have an enterprise business, so it would make sense to make a more significant move to enter that territory and another big question is whether we go into Eastern Europe," he added.

With net debt of $405m at the end of 2008 (Bell shaved off $48m in December) the company will need to find investors that have faith with IT distribution and can look beyond its recent troubles, a rare breed in the current climate.

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