10 Biggest Business Deals of 2015

From merger-happy Jefferson to the Urban-Vetri shocker, 2015 has been a wild year in business.

Philadelphia businesses made plenty of big moves in 2015. Everybody’s favorite coffee roaster got a new owner, two big universities announced a merger, and virtually every hospital seems interested in joining forces with one another.

Still, one of the biggest deals of the year — Comcast’s $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable — stalled after federal regulators recommended blocking it.

But there were still plenty of monster deals in 2015. Here are the top 10:

1. Jefferson Merges with Abington. And Aria. And Philly U.

Jefferson-Hospital-University-JEFF-FUSCO-940X540

For Jefferson, 2015 was a year of huge changes. After fundamentally restructuring how the organization is managed in 2014, Jefferson ended its financial partnership with Main Line Health and began pursuing new arrangements. In May, it finalized a merger with Abington Health creating a local health care behemoth controlling five hospitals: Abington Memorial HospitalThomas Jefferson University Hospital, Jefferson Hospital for Neurosciences, Lansdale Hospital, and Methodist Hospital. Then in October it announced plans to merge with Aria Health giving the organization a total of 22,900 employees, 4,384 physicians and 2,236 inpatient beds. It also added three more hospitals: Aria Health Frankford, Aria Health Torresdale, and Aria Health Bucks County.

Then came a shocker: Jefferson announced a merger deal with Philadelphia University. A medical and nursing school in Center City merging with a design, engineering and fashion school in East Falls? Sure, why not? The combined school will have 7,500 students in both universities, 78,000 alumni and is now the fifth-largest university in Philadelphia.

2. Urban Outfitters Buys Vetri Family of Restaurants

Marc Vetri

Marc Vetri

At first glance, it may seem like a publicly traded fashion retailer and a small restaurant company would make strange bedfellows — but Urban Outfitters and the Vetri Family of Restaurants have been connected for quite some time. In fact, business partners Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin have been hoping to expand their Pizzeria Vetri concept beyond Philadelphia for a while now and already had some plans in place that coincide with new Urban stores. Now under the same company, the partnership will be kicked into overdriveReportedly worth under $20 million, the deal is “an unprecedented event in the restaurant and retail world” said Vetri. He also said “I don’t know of anything else like this.”

“One could say that we’ve been negotiating for the last year, but I look at it like we’ve been holding hands for the last 10 years,” Vetri continued. “I started to develop a relationship with a lot of the executives and employees there. Through the years, I realized that our companies are very similar in culture and vision regarding innovation, entrepreneurship and pushing the limits to move things forward. They’ve really been mentoring us for years.”

3. Comcast invests $400 Million in Vox, BuzzFeed

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

In August, Comcast invested a cool $200 million in Vox Media. The deal gives Comcast and subsidiary NBCUniversal interest in a diversified online media business with brands like SB Nation, Polygon, The VergeVox.com, Eater, Racked, Curbed, and Re/code. It should help Comcast extend its reach with younger, more online-driven audiences.

About a week later, the cable giant made a separate $200 billion equity investment in BuzzFeed — the ultra-clickable news/content platform famous for headlines like Can You Tell if This Person Just Pooped or Orgasmed and 17 Celebrity Sex Dream Horror Stories That’ll Give You Nightmares. Call it click-bait if you want, but BuzzFeed reaches over 200 million monthly unique visitors and garners 1.5 billion monthly video views. It also had revenues of $100 million in 2014 and boasts 1 billion monthly video views and 200 million site visitors per month.

4. Chobani Founder Becomes Majority Owner in La Colombe

la-colombe-fishtown-sign-940

As of August 2015, the majority owner of La Colombe became Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the wildly popular greek yogurt company Chobani. Although it’s unclear what Ulukaya invested, he bought out Goode Partners, a small private equity firm that invested $28.5 million in La Colombe in 2014. That cash helped La Colombe build new cafes in cities like Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. The company has plans to build 100 cafes across the country.

The deal comes on the heels of La Colombe’s release of the draft latte — a coffee-and-milk combo poured from a keg that has a semi-sweet taste and a slight milkshake-like texture. It’s the brainchild of CEO and head coffee geek Todd Carmichael. Available now in La Colombe coffee shops, the draft latte will soon be canned and shipped to retail outlets across the country.

5. Aetna, Humana Agree to $37 Billion Merger

(Katherine Welles/Shutterstock)

(Katherine Welles/Shutterstock)

In June, Aetna and Humana agreed to a merger that will create a health insurance behemoth with $115 billion in annual revenues and 33.5 million members. It brings together the third- and fourth-largest health insurers in the United States, and is yet another sign of insurers joining together to become more powerful in the face of larger and larger health care providers. In the Philadelphia area, Independence Blue Cross is still king. But with a combined Aetna-Humana, it’s got a formidable opponent.

6. Campbell Soup Co. Makes $231 Million Fresh Food Bet

Campbell Soup Co. headquarters in Camden, N.J.

Campbell Soup Co. headquarters in Camden, N.J.

Campbell Soup Co. made yet another advance toward a fresher, healthier product line with its agreement to acquire Garden Fresh Gourmet for $231 million. Garden Fresh makes refrigerated salsa, hummus and other dips. It generated $100 million in net sales last year and has 500 employees in Michigan.

As more and more people are choosing healthier options, sales of Campbell’s traditional products — like canned soups — have stagnated. That’s led the company to move in a healthier direction. In 2012 it acquired Bolthouse Farms (makers of juices, bagged carrots and salad dressing), and in 2013 it bought Plum Organics (organic baby food and kid snacks).

7. Dow, Dupont Announce $130 Billion Mega-Merger

In December, Dow and DuPont announced a $130 billion merger, combining two of the world’s largest science and technology companies. Dow and DuPont shareholders will each own approximately 50 percent of the combined company. DuPont, based in Wilmington, is expected to shed more than 5,000 jobs as part of the merger. The new company will be called DowDuPont, but that will become three independent, publicly traded companies through tax-free spin-offs in 18 to 24 months.

8. Sungard Sells for $9.1 Billion

Shutterstock

SunGard was bought in August by Fidelity National Information Services Inc. in a $9.1 billion deal. So ends SunGard’s plans to take the company public with an IPO estimated at $750 million. Based in Wayne, Pa., SunGard is a financial software company with annual revenue of $2.8 billion. It employs 13,000 people and has clients in 100 countries. SunGard was acquired by a group of private equity firms in 2005 in an $11 billion deal.

FIS is based in Jacksonville, Fla., and specializes in banking and payments technology as well as consulting and outsourcing solutions. It employs 42,000. The combined company will have over $9.2 billion in annual revenues and more than 55,000 employees.

9. Stephen Starr Sells $40 Million Catering Business

Stephen Starr

Starr Restaurants made a surprising move in August — selling its $40 million catering business. It provides food for weddings, corporate events and cultural institutions. TrustHouse Services Group  purchased Starr Restaurants Catering Group (SRGC) for an undisclosed amount. SRGC will continue to operate under the Starr Catering banner and be led by President and CEO Simon Powles and COO Guy Kellner. As part of the deal, Charlotte, N.C.-based TrustHouse will get licensing rights to numerous trademark menu items from Starr Group.

10. Fox Rothschild Merges With Minnesota Firm

Fox Rothschild

Law firm Fox Rothschild announced a plan that will swell the firm to 700 attorneys and give it a strong foothold in the Midwest. It’s merging with Minneapolis-based law firm of Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP and absorbing 82 Oppenheimer attorneys. The move boosts Fox Rothschild’s attorney count more than 10 percent and is the firm’s largest acquisition in nearly 10 years.

“Establishing a strong presence in the Upper Midwest is an important component in Fox’s overall strategic growth plan,” said Mark Silow managing partner at Fox Rothschild in a statement. “The Oppenheimer firm offers us a chance to enter this important market in a robust way, adding an established group of attorneys with strong client relationships and deep roots in the community.” 

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