Sorensen, Salt Lake City, Utah, a communications provider providing video relay and captioning for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, announced that private investment firm Ariel Alternatives, LLC has completed an acquisition of 52.5% of the Company’s common equity from existing shareholders, including Blackstone Credit, a fund managed by Franklin Mutual Advisers, and private credit accounts managed by KKR at an enterprise valuation of $1.3 billion. The selling shareholders will continue to own a minority interest in the company. Ariel Alternatives is the private equity subsidiary of global asset manager Ariel Investments, LLC, the “first Black-owned investment firm in the US.”
Sorenson’s Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) for people with hearing loss, video, in-person American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting have helped modernize the way people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing communicate, according to the company’s announcement. This acquisition will not affect Sorenson’s current services.
Sorenson’s existing presence in Europe includes a flagship customer in France, and its United Kingdom affiliate, Sign Language Interactions. Sign Language Interactions was recently named by the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) as the official provider for the UK’s new Emergency 999 Video Relay Service (VRS), according to the announcement.
This acquisition is the first of Ariel Alternatives’ strategic initiative “Project Black,” its mission to scale sustainable minority-owned businesses. Through this acquisition effort, Ariel Alternatives seeks to transform portfolio companies like Sorenson into minority business enterprises (MBEs) and position them as leading suppliers to Fortune 500 companies, supporting business diversity. Ariel Alternatives also aims to help portfolio companies generate jobs, economic growth, and equality within underrepresented populations. These impact objectives include but are not limited to: increasing the accessibility of products to underserved communities; the hiring of diverse people from entry level to the boardroom; the purchasing of contracts with minority-owned vendors and suppliers; and philanthropic partnerships with organizations supporting civil rights.
Sorenson Chief Executive Officer Jorge Rodriguez commented: “We are thrilled to partner with Ariel Alternatives. Their investment will enable us to optimize our capabilities; evolve our systems, platforms, and approaches to improve the overall deaf and hard-of-hearing communication experience; and accelerate R&D and next-generation technology investments to promote functional equivalency across the diverse communities we serve. I couldn’t be happier that we have closed such a monumental transaction, given our thesis of accessibility, inclusion, and economic opportunities as underlying tenets of our mission to support underserved and underrepresented groups.”
Senior Managing Director of Blackstone Credit and Sorenson board member David Posnick added: “Sorenson has done a phenomenal job of serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. I am confident the Ariel Alternatives acquisition will extend Sorenson’s service reach, providing communication language access to broader populations.”
Ariel Alternatives has leveraged its extensive network of minority executives to introduce Sorenson to recently appointed CEO Jorge Rodriguez and new board members, including Chairman Paget Alves, and directors Vonya McCann, Colonel J. Carlos Vega, and Maria Teresa Lensing. In addition to being people of color, these executives bring critical product, security, and regulatory expertise to Sorenson’s leadership team as the Company evolves and enhances its focus on innovation, consumer protection, and compliance.
- Jorge Rodriguez (Sorenson CEO) was previously the President and CEO of multiple America Movil companies and brings more than 30 years of telecommunications and management experience.
- Paget Alves (Sorenson Board Chairman) most recently served as the Chief Sales Officer and President of Business Markets Group for Sprint Corporation. He is a board member of Assurant, Inc; International Game Technology, PLC; Synchrony Financial; and Yum! Brands, Inc. He is also on the advisory board for Ariel Alternatives’ Project Black initiative.
- Vonya McCann (Sorenson Board Director) will provide increased regulatory expertise and a dedicated, board-level focus on ensuring strong compliance at Sorenson. She was a Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at Sprint Corporation, following a long career in both communications and government. McCann was nominated by President William J. Clinton and confirmed by the US Senate as Ambassador and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Communications and Information Policy.
- Colonel J. Carlos Vega (Sorenson Board Director) is an experienced cybersecurity professional and a retired US Army Colonel with over three decades of security leadership experience and two decades specializing in cybersecurity operations. With demonstrated capability leading large and small-scale organizations to achieve difficult IT, security, and operational objectives, Vega has led teams in high-stress environments characterized by demanding standards and intense operational schedules. He has led professional operations, research, and technology teams in preparation for demanding missions that include combat and support missions in the most hostile environments.
- Maria Teresa Lensing (Sorenson Board Director) currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for engineering, infrastructure, and operations at McKesson, where she is strongly focused on engineering design and operational excellence to optimize performance levels. Previously, she held various leadership positions with AT&T and Rockwell Collins. Lensing is the recipient of numerous business awards and has served on the Hispanic IT Executive Council for the HITEC 100 – 100 Most Influential Hispanic Leaders in Technology.
Sorenson has recently hired and will continue to engage additional ethnic minority, deaf and hard-of-hearing leaders, advisors, and directors. In addition, the Company is establishing a Deaf Advisory Council that will recommend ongoing best practices for conducting business in the community it serves.
Sorenson was advised by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Credit Suisse. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP served as lead legal counsel to Ariel Alternatives, with Greenberg Traurig LLP serving as co-counsel.
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