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Business & Economy

North East technology specialist, eQS, acquires London-based consultancy

Hebburn-headquartered leading technology specialist in cognitive disability and mental wellness, eQuality Solutions Group (eQS), has acquired diversity and inclusion consultancy Equality Works Group (EW Group) in a seven-figure deal that will see eQS on track to achieve its target of £30m turnover by 2023.

This is the second acquisition for the North East headquartered firm as part of its ambitious ‘buy and build’ growth strategy to become the leading global provider of equality, diversity, inclusivity and mental wellbeing (EDI&MW) solutions as workplace demand for fair and inclusive working cultures continues to grow [1].

London-based EW Group will add complementary skills, products and services to eQS’s existing offering, which provides specialist EDI&MW equipment, software, training and mentoring in education, workplace and government sectors.

Established 29 years ago, EW Group provides consultancy and training services to a range of public, private and not-for-profit organisations, helping them to build fair and inclusive working cultures, and tackle discrimination in the workplace including racism and sexism.

It has a team of over 60 people working with more than 1,500 organisations across 25 countries, including The Economist Group, the BBC, Dyson, adidas, Arsenal Football Club, URBN and The White Company.

The addition of EW Group will see eQS’s revenue exceed £10m and takes the total employee headcount to 60 in addition to 350 freelance consultants, trainers and delivery engineers across the UK.

eQS CEO Andy Gough sees the acquisition of EW Group as a pivotal step in consolidating the fragmented equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) market. He said: “This acquisition is a critical step for eQS in the workplace market and our plan is to make further strategic acquisitions as we continue on our pathway to become the global leading provider in this specialist space across various sectors and geographies.

“The past couple of years have not only seen a global health crisis but also an awakening regarding social issues. Social movement campaigns such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Me Too,’ as well as the Government’s push for diversity at board level and Gender Pay Gap reporting requirements, have all brought to light key issues. Business leaders are listening and investing in ED&I and mental wellbeing strategies, not only because it’s time for change, but also because diverse and inclusive workforces are proven to be better performing.

“EW Group shone as a leading light in the ED&I market and quickly became our top choice for our next acquisition due to its outstanding reputation. Upon first meeting with EW Group founder Jane Farrell, there was clear synergy. I believe we have a great mutual respect with regards to business culture, values and passion for doing good, and there was an instant comfortable feeling that we would work well together.”

EW Group Founder Jane Farrell said: “Meeting eQS came just at the right time. The team stood out for understanding our journey and demonstrating a passion for protecting the EW Group brand identity and developing its legacy.

“The market is building momentum and I see my role in our new phase of growth with eQS as being a brand steward for EW Group; helping to maintain our authenticity but also excited to see it evolve as part of an exciting new chapter.

“When I started the company in 1992 with Dr Annie Hedge the terms ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ were not commonplace. Part of our job then was to educate the market on the benefits of an inclusive workforce. We know that teams with high levels of diversity and inclusion outperform their peers by 80% and today we see a far greater understanding from clients of how ED&I is so intrinsically linked to business performance.

EW Group’s senior management team will continue in their existing roles following the completion of the acquisition, with Managing Director Rachael Wilson driving forward further growth for the business alongside delivering product and service innovations.

EW Group managing director Rachael Wilson said: “The acquisition certainly feels serendipitous on a personal level, as myself and Jane both are alumni of Newcastle University and I chose to make the region my home for more than a decade, living in Tyne & Wear for 15 years.”

Advising eQS on the acquisition were Corporate Financiers Carl Swansbury, Rhiannon Nightingale and Ben Kain of Newcastle-based RG Corporate Finance, with financial and tax due diligence delivered by Grahame Maughan and Simon Whiteside of RG.

RG corporate finance director Rhiannon Nightingale said: “This is a significant transaction for eQS and will see it broaden its services in the workplace EDI&MW space, which is a natural next step in its scale-up journey. Both businesses hold respected positions in the market and bringing together their expertise will allow eQS to further enhance its position as a high-quality, North-East headquartered business operating nationwide.”

Legal advice was provided by corporate partner Tom Pollard and corporate solicitor Liam Stubbs of Ward Hadaway LLP.

eQS secured a £20m funding package from Shard Credit Partners in December 2020, which will continue to fuel further mergers and acquisitions in eQS’ goal to become the leading global provider of EDI&MW solutions.

In January 2021 eQS made its first acquisition of South West-based Amano, expanding its geographic reach and adding capabilities in the education and workplace support market.

Advising Jane Farrell on the sale of EW Group was Rob Garner of Garwood Solutions.  Legal advice to Jane Farrell was provided by Rob Dunk of The Legal Director Ltd.

[1] EW Group is on course to double its 2020-21 turnover on the previous financial year. This reflects the surge in interest in its key service areas: inclusive cultures training and diversity audits. This trend looks set to continue with the Q3 new client enquiries through the EW Group website increasing by 20% on Q2.