The complexity of the individual restructuring steps, the resulting tax aspects as well as the necessary legal clarifications were optimally elaborated and coordinated by Hitz & Partner.
Interview with Michael Mettler, Owner & CEO of Helbling Reisen AG on 3 March 2021 in connection with the successful restructuring of Helbling Reisen AG as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
Hitz & Partner had the pleasure of assisting you with your management buy-in about 5 years ago. How have you experienced the last few years as an entrepreneur and managing director of Helbling Reisen AG?
Michael Mettler (MM): The takeover of Helbling Reisen AG fulfilled my desire for independence and autonomy. I can look back on the past period in a very positive light. The financing structure provided by Hitz & Partner 5 years ago gave me the necessary security.
When did you realise that you had to actively tackle the restructuring of Helbling Reisen AG in order to secure the future of the company?
It became clear to me as early as May 2020 that the COVID crisis could become very dangerous for Helbling Reisen. The management buy-in 5 years ago required a lean balance sheet. As a consequence, there were not enough retained earnings available for such a serious and unforeseeable crisis.
Why and at what point did you decide to hire an external corporate finance advisor?
In order to secure the recapitalization, a partial sale of the company was also an option. Since I know that Hitz & Partner has a wide network in the industry, we held the first talks at the beginning of June 2020 and explored various options. This resulted in three options, which we then carefully examined.
How and in which areas could Hitz & Partner support you the most?
Identifying the necessary steps for a clean and sustainable restructuring of Helbling Reisen AG and its parent company. Establishing relationships with potential buyers, accompanying the contract negotiations, drafting the shareholders' agreement and the share purchase agreement.
What was difficult and what was easy during the process?
The various negotiation meetings were particularly difficult. We were aiming for a 50/50 joint venture. This requires a corresponding "spirit" on the part of both parties. Thanks to their great experience, Hitz & Partner was always able to support us in an advisory and moderating capacity. The various zoom calls with Stephan Hitz and Cédric Vollmar were easy and very collegial. Two professionals who always put the human component into the equation.
What opportunities do you see for Helbling Reisen AG now that the restructuring has been completed, despite or precisely because of COVID-19?
First, in terms of efficiency: rigorous cost reduction means that a company gets rid of the "fat" that has slowly accumulated. The entire Helbling Reisen team worked creatively and constructively on the streamlining process. It also promoted the employees' identification with the company.
Second, digitalisation: The COVID crisis demands "distance" in the truest sense of the word. Digitalisation can overcome distances. So during this time we worked hard on online counselling and virtual customer events.
Thirdly, product innovation: new trips for 2021 have been created. Departures from the small St. Gallen-Altenrhein airport, Mediterranean destinations, holidays in a holiday home, earthbound travel are in vogue.
Which redevelopment solution did you ultimately opt for?
In the end, I decided to finance the company myself, not with outside financing. Helbling Reisen remains in my possession. That, in turn, is in line with my original wish. So, we closed the circle and starting again on a greenfield site with many new experience.
What advice can you give to entrepreneurs who need to restructure their company?
If you want to examine all the options for a restructuring and don't have any professionals internally available, it's best to do this with external advisor like Hitz & Partner. The complexity of the individual restructuring steps, the resulting tax aspects or the legal security of contracts could be optimally worked out by Hitz & Partner.
Last question: In your view, how must the travel industry and especially the classic travel agency develop further?
The travel industry is no stranger to flexibility and adaptability. But the COVID crisis has accentuated these requirements. We all had to learn to accept things we cannot change and to set our sails according to the new wind direction. That keeps us young.