Permira Funds, one of the leading European private equity advisors, is acquiring a 49 percent stake in the 125-year-old German company along with members of its management for a undisclosed amount. Randolf Rodenstock will continue to run and control the German group through his family holding company, Optische Werke, with a 51 percent interest. Details of the deal ond of the future strategy will be given in a couple of months, but it seems that the top management ? other than Randolf Rodenstock himself - will be allowed for the first time to take up to 10 percent of the total equity.

The entry of a purely financial non-strategic partner was the route that Randolf Rodenstock preferred when he announced last November that he was looking for an investor to help grow the business more rapidly, particularly outside Germany, prior to a planned public offering at a later stage. Discussions were held with several institutional investors prior to the final decision. Permira, which recently bought a 65 percent stake in the German Premiere pay-TV network, has acted since 1985 as an advisor to 17 funds with a combined volume of almost €6 billion. It recently offered to take over the British Debenhams department store group.

The present solution guarantees a certain continuity. Coming after Essilor's acquisition of Rupp + Hubrach, the entry of a strategic partner into Rodenstock would have probably antagonized some clients. It would have been complicated by Rodenstock's unique set-up, with strength both in lenses and frames, which the family wanted to preserve. In 2002, the group raised its sales in the core business of lenses and frames by 3 percent to about €380 million, generating a higher operating result on a comparable basis.