Note: This article has been revised from the original to clarify some of the language.
Dun & Bradstreet, which sold its Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. unit to private equity group Great Hill Partners for $10 million in 2010, announced yesterday it would buy back the Malibu company for $320 million.
The business was founded in 2010 when Great Hill Partners bought an underperforming small business credit reporting service and licensed the D&B name and several products. Under Great Hill, of Boston, revenue at D&B Credibility Corp reached $135 million last year. The deal is to close after it receives regulatory approval.
The relationship between D&B and its former division has been a contentious one. D&B Credibility Corp. sued D&B for breach of contract in February 2014, alleging D&B Chief Executive Bob Carrigan wanted to end the open-ended licensing arrangement.
According the suit, Carrigan told D&B Credibility Corp. Chief Executive Jeff Stibel that he thought the name and product licensing arrangement was “the dumbest (expletive) deal I have ever seen in my career, I don’t know who at D&B approved this, but I should fire them.”
Several months before Carrigan allegedly made that comment, D&B Credibility Corp. and D&B were the subject of a Wall Street Journal article titled “Small Businesses Seethe at Credit Service Using Dun & Bradstreet Name.”
In the article, small business owners complained they were being sold expensive, unneeded D&B Credibility Corp. products under the impression they were required to correct or maintain their D&B credit rating.
In 2013 and 2014, those accusations burst into the judicial system via five lawsuits naming both companies. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status from a federal judge this May. Company officials declined to comment on the litigation.
“It’s been a long and arduous lawsuit,” said one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, Jack Landskroner of Cleveland law firm Landskroner Grieco Merriman. “We will continue to fight because it’s the right thing to do.”
In recent years, D&B has tried to point customers away from D&B Credibility Corp.’s paid credit monitoring services, but the once and future unit objected in its lawsuit, pointing out that it is entitled to referrals from D&B under the existing perpetual contract.
In an interview, Stibel did not want to comment about the litigation between D&B and D&B Credibility Corp.
“From the outside things look more contentious, but we quickly realized our similarities are greater than our differences,” said Stibel.
The D&B Credibility Corp. and D&B lawsuit is now in mediation and may be settled with the acquisition.
D&B Credibility Corp., which employs about 650 people – a big part of whom reside at its Malibu headquarters – will retain its local office after the deal closes. Stibel will become vice chairman of D&B.
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