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Private Equity Firm’s Prints All Over Touch Screen

Westwood private-equity giant Gores Group LLC is looking to touch the future – literally.

Last week, a Gores affiliate wrapped up its acquisition of Elo Touch Solutions Inc., a Menlo Park maker of touch screens for commercial applications – everything from hotel room TVs to restaurant computers and monitors in doctors’ offices. Gores purchased Elo for $380 million in cash from Schaffhausen, Switzerland, electronics giant TE Connectivity Ltd.

The acquisition gives Gores an entry into one of the hottest technology markets: touch screens.

“Touch is becoming pervasive in our lives,” said Jonathan Huberman, managing director of operations for Gores and now chairman of Elo. “People have now come to expect touch on electronics at the consumer level and it’s now beginning to permeate the commercial world.”

Huberman said Elo has established itself as one of the world’s leading suppliers of touch screens for commercial applications. Under Gores’ leadership, he said that focus will remain, as will Elo’s top management.

“Elo stands apart on the breadth of its technologies and the quality of its products,” he said. “Those are tremendous assets and we intend to continue the growth in the commercial applications sector.”

This is Gores’ second acquisition from TE. In 2007, Gores purchased Lineage Power for $100 million from the company, then known as Tyco Electronics Ltd. Lineage makes backup power components for cloud computing, data storage and wireless networks.

Gores undertook a major retooling of Lineage. That revamp proved successful: In January 2011, Gores sold Lineage for $520 million to General Electric Co. in Fairfield, Conn.

In the last year, TE decided to divest several of its holdings as it refocused operations amid the worsening economic climate in Europe. Huberman said that because of its prior relationship with TE, Gores was on TE’s list of potential purchasers.

The timing of the Gores acquisition couldn’t be better, said Aaron Smith, vice president of LEK Consulting in San Francisco.

“This is a really hot area right now,” Smith said. “The applications for touch screens in the commercial sector are massive and growing rapidly. Touch screens are going into cars, home appliances, hospitals – everywhere humans interact with computers.

“What’s more,” Smith continued, “there’s a shortage of supply. With tight supplies, there are long lead times and high price points for touch screens. That’s a really good environment for investors to come in, because it means higher margins.”

The downside, of course, could come if too many investors and manufacturers rush in and drive prices down.

“We could see some price erosion several years down the road, but that’s certainly not the case now,” said Smith, who added that the market is even bigger on the personal electronics side, fueled by the growth of smart phones and tablets.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.
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