Japanese firm finalizes acquisition of Omaha company Gavilon

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 3:45 am, Sat Oct 11, 2014.

Executives from Omaha commodities trader Gavilon finalized their company's acquisition by a Japanese trading firm on Wednesday and said the partnership would bring jobs to Omaha as it expands foreign markets for U.S. grain producers.

Spinning the business off from ConAgra in 2008 and building it since then was exciting, said Greg Heckman, Gavilon's president and chief executive officer. “But what I'm really excited about is the future,” he told a crowd at the Omaha Country Club.

Among the guests were Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, officials of the company's new owner, Marubeni Corp., and journalists from three Japanese news media outlets.

The group that traveled from Japan was not as large as a contingent of about 100 who had visited earlier, during the acquisition process, said Teruo Asada, Marubeni board chairman.

He joked that there were so many Japanese businessmen in town that “I heard there was a rumor in Omaha — 'Toyota might be coming here.' ”

Its name may not be as widely known as Toyota's, but Marubeni is still a big business.

Based in Tokyo, the company had a 2012 profit of $1.8 billion. It was founded in 1858 and has 4,200 employees. It is known in Japan as one of the largest “general trading companies,” dealing in food, pulp and paper, textiles and energy commodities.

Gavilon, formerly known as ConAgra Trade Group, was sold to investors for about $2.8billion. Today it has operations in 13 countries. It has about 150 grain storage centers and 85 for fertilizer, buying from producers and selling to users.

The Gavilon acquisition by Marubeni was supposed to close last September, but it was delayed pending approval by Chinese regulators. They had a say because the combined company will account for about one-fifth of Chinese grain imports, supplying 12 million tons out of a total of 55 million tons, Asada said.

Asada said Marubeni needs to expand its business into China and wants to own more of its supply chain. Currently, it purchases from competitors to meet the demand.

“China has a great appetite,” he said. “We have a great opportunity to expand.”

He said he also has plans to expand grain sales elsewhere in Asia as well as the Middle East.

Marubeni agreed last year to buy Gavilon, which employs 350 in the Omaha area and 2,000 worldwide, for $3.6 billion plus the assumption of $2 billion in debt.

The price dropped in June to $2.7 billion under a revised deal that excluded Gavilon's energy unit. Gavilon investors are actively seeking a buyer for that unit, and there has been plenty of interest, Heckman said.

Gavilon is building a $44 million office in downtown Omaha.

Marubeni's Keizo Torii will relocate to Omaha to serve as Gavilon's managing executive officer and chairman of a board that will include Heckman and two other Gavilon executives.

Heckman said Gavilon's staff will remain in place and can expect to expand, although he declined to say how many jobs the firm might add.

Heineman said of the deal: “Another example of the type of partnership you need to compete in a global economy.”

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