Willis Completes Acquisition of France’s Gras Savoye

Willis Group Holdings plc, the global risk advisory, re/insurance broking, and human capital and benefits firm, announced the completion of its acquisition of Gras Savoye, the leading French insurance broker.

On April 22, 2015, Willis Group announced it planned to acquire the remaining 70 percent of Gras Savoye it did not own. The transaction was finalized on Dec. 29, 2015, following acceptance of the offer by Gras Savoye shareholders in late June, consultation with workers’ councils, and the receipt of regulatory approvals.

“Willis and Gras Savoye will work together to bring the best of their organizations to clients, enabling them to innovate and implement the right solutions to manage risk and people,” said Willis in a statement.

“The union creates a powerful international network by combining Willis’s global footprint with Gras Savoye’s particularly strong presence in France, Central and Eastern Europe, and across Africa. Gras Savoye’s expertise in high-growth markets and industry sectors complements Willis’s strengths, creating significant value for clients and a compelling offer for carriers,” the statement continued.

Willis said the union is built on a successful relationship of 40 years, which will help ensure a smooth integration.

Gras Savoye will keep its name and brand.

“This is the next step in a long and successful partnership, and we are delighted to be joining forces with Gras Savoye,” said Dominic Casserley, CEO of Willis Group. “Our specialist teams and international footprints are highly complementary, with each strengthening the other. Gras Savoye will also play a crucial role in the new Willis Towers Watson, which is set to launch in early 2016, pending completion of the merger.”

Willis said Gras Savoye will bring unique strengths to the new company:

Fran├žois Varagne, CEO of Gras Savoye, said: “This is excellent news for Gras Savoye’s 3,900 colleagues. With Willis we will offer greater opportunities across an increased range of client industries, specialties and countries. We will have market-leading positions in more geographies, deliver unmatched expertise on analytics, and grow our footprint in new markets. I want to thank Astorg and Willis for their strong support to Gras Savoye and my team, which has made this possible.”

Xavier Moreno, chairman and managing partner of Astorg, the private equity investor, said: “We are delighted that Gras Savoye is entering this new, exciting phase of its development strategy following our six-year shareholding period in which Gras Savoye has grown stronger and widened its international network as a result of the tripartite, active and experienced support given to it by Astorg, the management and Willis.”

A Bit of History

Willis was a key member of an international network started by a U.S.-based broker in the 1960s, which was named the UNISON network in 1982. Gras Savoye joined this network in 1975, but had worked with Willis on projects prior to that, Willis explained.

Gras Savoye has been an associate company of Willis since 1997, when Willis acquired a 33 percent ownership interest, which it gradually increased to 49 percent, Willis said, noting that in November 2009, the capital of Gras Savoye was reorganized and Astorg became a shareholder. Willis, the family shareholders of Gras Savoye and Astorg each held 31.8 percent stakes in the holding company. A 4.5 percent stake was held by a group of Gras Savoye managers and employees.

As part of this reorganization and a subsequent agreement, Willis obtained the option to purchase by 2016 the remaining shares it does not own.