Is Aramark preparing another IPO?

Aramark headquarters in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Aramark Corp., the Philadelphia-based college, stadium, workplace and hospital cafeteria manager, is laying the groundwork to sell shares to the public for the first time since it last went private in 2007, writes Jonathan Marino, senior editor at The Deal in New York, citing unnamed investment banking sources (who would love to see a deal happen and pick up a piece of the action). The Wall St. Journal has also speculated about a possible Aramark IPO. Aramark has not announced any IPO plans and hasn't been responding to media inquiries on the possibility. Last week the Inquirer reported Aramark is moving 300 back-office Philadelphia jobs to Nashville, Tenn., subscribers only.

Aramark could sell shares at a price that would value the company at more than $10 billion, Marino speculated, citing recent share prices for rivals Pinnacle Foods Inc., Compass Group plc and Sodexho SA, though the valuation will depend in part on the company's debt load, which was partly refinanced this year at low market rates, but which still totals over $5 billion, according to Marino.

Aramark went public twice and was taken private twice during the years it was run by Joseph Neubauer, a Wall Street legend for his skill in boosting margins in mature industries like food service while also making money in both share sales and buyouts. "This might be the last transaction" for Neubauer, who has given up day to day control of the company but remains chairman, Marino told me.

In its 2007 deal, Aramark was taken private by buyout firms Warburg Pincus LLC, Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, CCMP Capital Advisors LLC, and GS Capital Partners, an arm of Goldman, Sachs & Co. Each bought around 21% of the company, with Neubauer, according to Marino, controlling the remaining 16 % -- worth at least $1.6 billion if the deal goes through as reported. 

Aramark sold Seamless North America LLC in 2012 for a rumored $1 billion (it's since combind with rival GrubHub Inc.) Marino says the buyout owners - while boosting Aramark debt - have also paid themselves at least $400 milllion in dividends. Adding those two paybacks, a successful IPO and later share sales could eventually double the value of the partners' 2007 investment, while also enriching Neubauer and any other insiders or longterm holders. When the company was public, Neubauer encouraged share ownership by managers and other longterm employees.