5 minute read 1 Feb 2018
The flame in a hot-air balloon

Why industrials companies are divesting at a record rate


David Gale

EY Global Advanced Manufacturing Transactions Leader

Advanced manufacturing leader with over 25 years of business experience, including the past 18 years focused on transactions. Board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.

5 minute read 1 Feb 2018

Our Industrials Divestment Study shows that transformation of operating models is top of mind among executives as they retool for the future.

To redefine themselves in an era of disruption, the industrial sector is looking at divestments through a tech focus.

Forty percent of industrial companies say they recently divested to raise funds for technology investment. Going forward, 72% of companies believe that technology-driven divestments will increase in the next 12 months.

Further, industrials divestments are now more likely to be driven by technological change than macroeconomic conditions. While 70% of industrials companies last year cited macroeconomic volatility as having prompted their most recent divestment, only 53% cited it this year.

So, while industrials companies continue to position their portfolios to balance exposure to macroeconomic risk, they are clearly also committing to a robust digital investment strategy.

The data from the survey points to other trends worth exploring.



of industrials executives plan to divest within the next two years — a sharp increase from 48% last year.

1. Use portfolio reviews to build a resilient company

Many industrials companies now recognize the need to conduct more regular and thorough portfolio reviews, yet 76% of executives still find it difficult to make the portfolio review process a strategic imperative. And 81% of executives struggle to understand how technology impacts the value of their business.

To succeed in the long term, leaders of industrials companies must change from a product- or market-based growth strategy to one that addresses the growth of services and increasing digital disruption. Regular portfolio reviews are essential to ensuring that a company’s strategic growth plan is on track against multiple future-state scenarios.

2. Continuously assess divestment scenarios across your portfolio

In the face of market consolidation, executives feel increasing pressure to remain competitive by focusing on core operations and divesting noncore assets. The leading divestment trigger for industrials companies is a business unit’s weak competitive position (86%).

However, 71% also stated that the divestment was triggered by an opportunistic buyer, including an unsolicited offer. And 90% of executives believe these unsolicited offers will increase over the next 12 months.

Instead of taking a reactive stance to market pressures, activist campaigns and unsolicited offers, industrials companies can develop scenario-based plans for potential divestments. Proactive strategies not only increase the likelihood of fending off market risks, but also increase the probability of getting a higher price for any divestment.

3. Consider your divestment strategy in a digital world

Companies are redefining their business strategy in a time of rapid-speed technology advancements. First, they need to understand the value of their own technology to their business. Sellers can achieve strong valuations on their businesses not only from strong operating models and legal structures, but also from clear communication about the potential impact of technology.

Nineteen percent of industrials executives say they did not communicate technology’s effect on the future state of the business, but they later determined that price would have benefited the most from doing so. And looking into the future, 61% of executives cite the need to fund new technology investments as increasing their need to divest over the coming year.

But companies should evaluate divestments not only on the cash that can be generated to support new technology, but also the impact on the overall portfolio as the company builds out its digital capabilities and positions itself to pursue new markets.

4. Establish analytics as a competitive advantage

Industrials executives are increasingly relying on analytics to make portfolio decisions and to support divestments. For deeper insights about value, companies should use performance (descriptive) analytics, which focuses on the business base and its historical performance, and applied (predictive) analytics, which focuses on understanding what key drivers influence an outcome.

Furthermore, dynamic decision modeling (prescriptive) analytics focuses on influencing the key features that lead to the desired outcome. Divestment teams that use these analytics effectively have deeper insights into value and are better positioned to articulate value to buyers.

Industrials companies are increasingly using predictive analytics — with 80% expecting to use predictive analytics more actively within two years, up from 58% last year. This is now on par with the cross-sector trend of 84%. We see a similar uptick with prescriptive analytics. However, there is still room for growth, with just 52% of companies reporting them to be very effective.

Analytics can also provide helpful insights at the functional level, by helping companies free up working capital, predict supply chain and commercial risks for the remaining entity, optimize legal entity arrangements and more.

5. Focus on value to expedite deals

More than a quarter (27%) of industrials companies see a valuation gap between buyer and seller expectations as greater than 20%, while 53% of executives see that valuation gap as between 11% and 20%. These gaps add time to the divestment process, which should be accounted for when planning. Buyers and sellers can optimize value and time to close by launching as many activities in parallel as possible and establishing strong communication among stakeholders.

Companies should also take the time up front to plan for various scenarios to close deals sooner. For example, companies should conduct early sell-side due diligence, carefully identify the buyer pool and develop appropriate value expectations.

Industrials companies that do this well are better equipped to present the synergy opportunities for each likely buyer. Twenty-seven percent of industrials companies cite this as the most critical step for enhancing sales value of their divestments. Another critical tool is highlighting the tax upside to purchasers – 37% of industrials companies report that they have been better able to do this over the past year.

Analytics can also provide strategic advantages in divestment preparation. Just over half of industrials executives (51%) said that, of all the steps in the divestment process, analytics created the most value in pre-sale preparation. This step includes identifying potential issues and positioning the business in a positive light. Buyer negotiations also benefit from analytics through activities, such as stress testing the business from the buyer’s perspective.

  • Methodology

    The EY Global Corporate Divestment Study focuses on how companies should approach portfolio strategy, improve divestment execution and future-proof their remaining business amid rapid technological change. The 2018 study results are based on 1,000 interviews with 900 senior corporate executives and 100 private equity executives; this article specifically deals with responses from the industrials sector. The survey was conducted between October and December 2017 by FT Remark, the research and publishing arm of the Financial Times Group.


Leading industrials companies are focusing on transforming their operating models and are no longer considering their portfolios as fixed. Those that can develop the right talent, tools and culture will be more likely to win market share as all market segments soon move through aggressive consolidation.

About this article


David Gale

EY Global Advanced Manufacturing Transactions Leader

Advanced manufacturing leader with over 25 years of business experience, including the past 18 years focused on transactions. Board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.