Leica Investor Wants To Sell 45% Stake In The Camera Company

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By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Man, what is up with European camera companies? First, DJI swooped in and bought a chunk of Hasselblad. Now we have news that one of Leica‘s investors is doing the same thing, putting up 45% of the company on the auction block. And now we’re hearing that Zeiss be the buyer?

The report comes from Reuters, which says that the Blackstone Investment Group, which controls that 45% stake in the flagship camera company, could be looking to unload its share of the company, and Zeiss is among some interested parties looking to grab it.

Reuters goes on to say that Zeiss would probably only be interested if they could become a majority share holder. So even if they bought the full 45%, stake that would make for some interesting board meetings since the controlling interest they covet would remain with the majority owners, the Kauffman family.

According to the report, another interesting bidder is Chinese investor CDH, which tried to buy the Blackstone stake last year, and electronics behemoth Huawei. The latter has licensed Leica camera technology for its smartphones, so it would make sense that the third largest maker of smartphones would be interested in expanding. But insiders also say that Huawei isn’t in the mix at all. So take both those Huawei positions with a grain of salt.

But how about DJI? Seriously. The drone company has already purchased a share of Hasselblad, with the goal of breathing new life into it with financial backing, engineering resources, and manufacturing expertise. The result is that DJI gets medium format designs with which to design around their drones, and Hasselblad gets to make moves towards future proofing its brand in an increasingly hostile and hyper competitive camera market.

I rather doubt that this would happen, but can you imagine a drone that has a Leica branded camera on it, or giving DJI’s Zenmuse line a Leica lens mount so that it could use some of their high-end glass for cinematic and other applications? My crazy imagination could. But I think that the Reuters report is far more likely, and that Zeiss could be looking open up an avenue for their own glass with a Zeiss-Leica partnership.

But with what Reuters says about Leica’s long term plans to look over the horizon, you have to wonder just what the German photography brand has in mind. Starting with its roots in microscopes in the 19th century, Leica created its first 35mm camera in 1924. It rapidly cornered the market, especially with luxury users, but after World War II, the rise of competitors from Japan pushed Leica to become the luxury-style niche product for photo pros and enthusiasts.

By doing well with that niche, Leica attracted Luxury goods company Hermes, who bought into the company in 1996, and spun off that investment for a quick profit in 2000 by selling to the Austria-based Kauffman family. Shortly thereafter, they brought in Blackstone for a minority 45% stake.

The report says Leica has a valuation of $828 million, with gross revenues of $82,316,850 USD (70 million Euro). So for a 45% stake, any potential investor would have to pony up around $375 million to get that minority share. But keep in mind we’re in a time when more people are taking pictures with their cell phones than they are with dedicated cameras. But also in the mix is that film cameras are making a resurgence, so any potential investor would be looking to harvest that movement to shore up the luxury branding that has become the hallmark of Leica cameras.

But it’s a tremendous roll of the dice.

Source: Reuters

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.