In Forbes sale, Bono would get paid first

Nov 16, 2013
Forbes Media chairman Steve Forbes

FORTUNE -- Financial media giant Forbes is on the block for a reported $400 million, with Deutsche Bank (db) beating the bushes for a buyer. If there is a sale, however, relatively few of the proceeds would go into the Forbes family's pockets.

Back in 2006, a private equity firm called Elevation Partners -- whose partners include rock star Bono and former Apple (aapl) exec Fred Anderson -- acquired a minority stake in Forbes Media LLC, the family-owned publisher of Forbes magazine and other properties. No financial terms were disclosed, but Fortune has learned that the total investment was $264 million (including some small follow-on investments). Moreover, the deal was structured as preferred stock, meaning that Elevation would get paid back first in the event of a sale (and then share in any gains).

That provision is paramount today, given the asking price. If Forbes sells for $400 million, then minority shareholder Elevation would receive a majority of the proceeds. Not too shabby, particularly given that Elevation had written its Forbes investment down by more than 75%.

Related: The Forbes family's big deal causes big trouble

For Elevation, this would be its second major save. The firm previously looked to have made a massive mistake by investing $460 million into mobile device maker Palm, but used a sophisticated structure -- plus an unexpectedly generous buyout from Hewlett-Packard (hpq) -- to eek out around a $25 million profit. It also has experienced large gains via smaller investments in both Facebook (fb) and Yelp (yelp).

Forbes would be the last major holding for the only fund Elevation has ever raised, a $1.9 billion vehicle closed in 2005. It also retains around 225,000 shares in Yelp, valued at $15.2 million. As of March 31, the fund was profitable with an 8.41 internal rate of return (a figure that would rise considerably were it to be made whole on Forbes).

An Elevation spokesman declined to comment for this story.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Elevation's original investment only was in Forbes' digital assets.]

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