MessageLabs sold to Symantec for £397m

Two Gloucestershire brothers are to become multimillionaires after Symantec, the world's biggest IT security group, confirmed it would buy their UK online messaging security group for about $695m (£397m) in cash.

Ben White and his brother Jos founded MessageLabs in 1999 and it has since expanded into one of the world's largest messaging security groups, ahead of competitors such as Google, Websense and Microsoft.

The deal will comprise a payment of about £310m and $154m as the group had both US and UK shareholders.

The brothers collectively own about 26 per cent, while co-founder Rory Sweet has a 17 per cent stake. Prospect Investment Management, whose investors include the families of Lords Rothschild and Weinstock, own a 15 per cent share, management has a 23 per cent stake while the 19 per cent balance is divided between RIT Capital Partners and Catalyst Investors, the US private equity group.

The company was initially created by Ben White to complement his Star ISP, now one of the largest business internet service providers in the UK. The two groups fully split in 2007.

Although he began his career as a broker selling life insurance, Ben White has come to be known as one of the UK's leading technology entrepreneurs.

In the mid-1990s, he also founded RBR Networks, a Cisco supplier that expanded into the US company's largest distributor in Europe, and which he sold to Datatec in 1998 for £45m. He handed over day-to-day management of MessageLabs two years ago.

MessageLabs hosts e-mail security for companies remotely over the internet, screening outgoing e-mails to prevent the loss of sensitive data, as well as storing e-mail records for clients. It also scans 3bn messages a day for spam and computer viruses.

IDC, the research group, estimates that hosted messaging security will become the most widely used form of IT messaging security by 2012, with analysts expecting the industry to be more insulated than other areas from an economic slowdown.

Revenues in MessageLabs rose 22 per cent to £73m in the year to July 31 while it also made an operating profit of £5m from an operating loss of £5m a year ago.

Adrian Chamberlain, chief executive of MessageLabs, told the FT that while the group was considering floating on the Stock Exchange in 2009, it had not been looking to sell itself until Symantec made its offer.

Symantec said MessageLab would complement its technology in data loss prevention, compliance, endpoint security and archiving in the software-as-a-service market.

By Philip Stafford

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