Lady Cobham furious as Advent pays £42m dividend

Owners of Cobham get bumper payout from aerospace specialist, sparking renewed anger over £4bn takeover

The US private equity owners of Cobham have received a bumper payout from the aerospace specialist, sparking renewed anger over last year’s £4billion takeover. 

Advent International bought the defence firm in January 2020 after an 18-month tussle with the founding family. It then began a dismantling of the group. 

Now the latest accounts show Cobham Limited will pay a £42.2million dividend for 2020, rocketing from £9.5million the year before. 

Taking off: The latest accounts show Cobham will pay a £42.2million dividend for 2020, rocketing from £9.5million the year before

Revenues halved to £22.6million in 2020 but it posted an £84.4million profit after a loss in 2019. 

It is understood the dramatic reversals reflect controversial sell-offs and improved sales at the remaining parts of the business. 

Advent faced bitter opposition from Lady Cobham, widow of former boss Sir Michael Cobham, over fears the company would be broken up. Lady Cobham told The Mail on Sunday the latest accounts ‘make all too predictable reading’, adding: ‘The break-up of the company has enriched a few individuals.

‘I do not know how many people have lost or will lose their jobs nor whether profits have yet accrued to those companies that have acquired bits of Cobham. 

‘But my fears that private equity has only short-term interests appear justified. This is surely something the Government needs to think more seriously about.’ 

The takeover was approved by then Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom after an inquiry into the national security implications. A set of conditions was put in place. But former Cobham chief Gordon Page said: ‘Nothing that they’ve done lines up with the promises they have given to the UK Government.’ 

Documents show the firm’s coffers were boosted by the £48.2million sale of its stake in AirTanker, which services the RAF, in a deal revealed by the MoS. It has sold Cobham’s Aero Connectivity business for $965million to America rival TransDigm and is selling Cobham’s air-to-air refuelling business Mission Systems for $2.83billion. 

Cobham last month said it is discussing a potential takeover of £1.7billion defence tech firm Ultra Electronics. It admitted Advent may alternatively sell Cobham to Ultra – returning Cobham back on to the public markets. 

An Advent spokesman said: ‘Cobham has performed strongly under Advent, despite the pandemic. More than $350million has been spent on research and development and strategic investments. 

‘The business is now more focused on high-tech electronics and has won significant contracts in commercial satellites, government space programs and next generation defence electronics.’