Watco Companies has formed a strategic partnership with Oaktree Capital Management, L.P., for a $450 million investment of private equity capital in the short line operator.
While Oaktree gets two seats on the board, Watco said that the non-controlling investment will support its improvement strategy and multiple customer growth initiatives.
Based in Los Angeles, Oaktree has $122 billion under management, and its logistics investments include maritime shipping and aviation.
“We are thrilled to announce this innovative strategic growth partnership and are excited for Oaktree to become a part of the Watco family,” said Dan Smith, chief executive of Watco, headquartered in Pittsburg, Kansas. “Oaktree brings much more than just capital to Watco. Oaktree brings its specialized team of transportation experts, a strong understanding of the sectors in which we operate, deep industry relationships, and years of investment experience – all critical things that we were looking for in a long-term strategic partner.”
“This partnership with Oaktree brings together complementary teams and allows our Watco team to continue doing what we love to do – growing our business, delivering the best possible service to our customers and creating value for all to share,” Smith said.
“Our Customers are constantly providing new growth opportunities requiring us to explore new ways to serve their ever-changing needs, and Watco has been blessed to have tremendous strategic partners in Kinder Morgan, Norfolk Southern, and SkyKnight Capital, who have made us better,” said Rick Baden, Watco president and chief financial officer. “With the strategic and financial support of Oaktree, added to the strengths of our existing strategic partners, we are prepared now more than ever to continue making Watco a world-class, full-service transportation provider.”
Watco operates 41 short line railroads in the U.S., as well as 31 industrial contract switching locations. The Terminal and Port Services division currently manages more than 86 terminals. Watco’s Mechanical Services operates at 19 locations.
Oaktree’s Transportation Infrastructure strategy is led by co-portfolio managers Emmett McCann and Josh Connor, who have a combined 45 years of industry experience. Oaktree is supported by a team of experienced investment professionals as well as a strong bench of operating partners and senior advisors, including former Kansas City Southern CEO Dave Starling. Starling and Josh Connor will be joining the Watco board of managers.
“We are honored to be partnering with and investing in Watco. We have known and admired Watco for many years and have watched Watco build a strong and entrepreneurial culture, focused on delivering safe and efficient transportation services to its Customers,” said Connor. “We are thrilled to partner with the Watco team and look forward to being a part of the company’s continued growth and success.”
“We believe the U.S. transportation infrastructure sector is attractive for long-term investment and ownership,” said McCann. “This partnership represents an opportunity for Oaktree to work alongside Watco, which we view as a tremendous transportation business, operating in the attractive freight rail sector, with a phenomenal culture, the right values, and exciting growth opportunities ahead of it. We are proud to be able support the Watco Team as they build for the future.”
“Having spent more than 40 years in and around transportation and railroading, I view this as an incredibly interesting point in time for the rail and freight transportation industries. This strategic partnership between Watco and Oaktree comes at an opportune time and has the potential to further elevate Watco’s services to become an even more prominent leader within the transportation industries,” said Starling.
Watco said the deal’s proceeds will help underwrite its ongoing M&A expansion, and that both Watco and Oaktree “expect the aggregate equity capital commitment to increase over time, as Watco continues to grow and provide additional safe and efficient services to customers.”