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Pension Fund Investment Backs Vertical Bridge’s Long-Term Growth Strategy

By J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor

When it was looking for its latest round of funding, Vertical Bridge Holdings decided to go long. The private tower owner and operator brought in a Canadian company that manages funds for public pensions and insurance plans, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), to acquire a 30 percent stake.

In 2014, Vertical Bridge was founded with capital from its executives  and long-term infrastructure funds, and now it is transitioning to even longer-term investors.

“People have suggested that we are selling. No. It is the opposite. We are doubling down. The business rationale here is really about longevity,” Alex Gellman, CEO and co-founder, Vertical Bridge, told eDigest. “Pension funds are more permanent capital. They will invest and stay in for literally decades. It gives us access to other deep pockets as we continue to grow.”

Vertical Bridge will use the investment from CDPQ to continue to expand its portfolio of broadband and broadcast towers, small cells, real estate and other wireless infrastructure assets ahead of 5G deployment.

“The investment gives us the ability to invest in assets and be creative for our customers, which are big and need a meaningful partner. With capital, and being private, we can be more flexible. We can move faster and be more creative than some of our public competitors,” Gelman said.

Since its inception, Vertical Bridge has completed more than 250 acquisitions and has grown its portfolio to more than 266,000 sites, including more than 16,000 owned and master-leased towers, as well as the nation’s largest and tallest private portfolio of broadcast towers.

Traditionally, the tower industry has grown through developers building portfolios of assets, which they would sell off and then  start over. As long as the carriers award work locally, that model continue to work, Gellman said, but Vertical Bridge is betting that the maturation of the wireless industry will lead to a consolidation of the carriers, which will favor larger tower companies.

“The biggest indicator of the maturation of our business is the more that the carriers consolidate control centrally, the more important it is to be big. As a private company it is hard to get your investors to stay around long enough to get big,” Gellman said.

CDPQ joins a group of long-term investors that have supported Vertical Bridge since its founding. The group includes Digital Bridge, The Jordan Company, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, The Edgewater Funds, CalSTRS and Dock Square Capital. The Vertical Bridge executive team also holds a significant stake in the business.

A private equity fund invests three to seven years and an infrastructure fund invests for five to ten years, while a direct pension fund investment will last well past ten years. The reason for the difference is the expectations of the investors. Infrastructure funds generally have limited partners that are pension funds or sovereign wealth funds. However, pension funds, especially in Canada, have been developing direct investment programs into companies, as opposed to coming in through a fund, Gellman said.

“Pension funds are much longer investors because they don’t have the pressure from the end of the life of the fund,” Gellman said.

Canadian Investor Buys a Third of Vertical Bridge

Long‑term institutional investor Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) has acquired a 30-percent stake in Vertical Bridge Holdings, which will use investment to continue to expand its portfolio of broadband and broadcast towers, small cells, real estate and other wireless infrastructure assets ahead of 5G deployment.

Since its inception in 2014, Vertical Bridge has completed more than 250 acquisitions and grown its portfolio to over 266,000 sites, including more than 16,000 owned and master-leased towers, as well as the nation’s largest and tallest private portfolio of broadcast towers.

“With this acquisition, we expand our exposure to telecommunications infrastructure by partnering with a first‑class operator that is strategically positioned in the market and brings a wealth of knowledge of the industry,” said Emmanuel Jaclot, Executive Vice‑President, Infrastructure at CDPQ. “We are delighted to work alongside the Vertical Bridge team and support the company’s next stages of development and long-term growth in an attractive wireless infrastructure sector.”

CDPQ joins a diverse group of long-term investors who have supported Vertical Bridge since its founding. The group includes Digital Bridge, The Jordan Company, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, The Edgewater Funds, CalSTRS and Dock Square Capital LLC. The Vertical Bridge executive team also holds a significant stake in the business.

“Two key goals since the day we were founded have been to be a leader in wireless communications infrastructure and to have longevity as a private company. The commitment from CDPQ – as well our current investors’ ongoing support – will allow us to continue to meet these objectives,” said Alex Gellman, CEO and Co-Founder of Vertical Bridge. “We are thrilled to add CDPQ to our investor group and look forward to working with them as we offer an even broader range of innovative infrastructure solutions to customers in the dynamic U.S. wireless and broadcast markets.”

Digital Bridge Holdings was formed in 2013 through a partnership between Ben Jenkins of Dering Capital (and formerly of The Blackstone Group) and Marc Ganzi (former founder and CEO of Global Tower Partners).  Digital Bridge owns interest in a broad range of communications infrastructure companies, including: Mexico Tower Partners, Vertical Bridge, ExteNet, Andean Tower Partners, Databank and Vantage Data Centers.

“We are pleased to welcome CDPQ to the company’s group of investors,” said Marc Ganzi, executive chairman of Vertical Bridge and co-founder and CEO of Digital Bridge. “As the world prepares for the next generation of mobile technology, and coverage and capacity demands rise, their support and guidance will be a vital asset to the Board and to the management team as we collaborate to achieve our goals and support carriers by providing best-in-class digital infrastructure solutions.”

U.S. Cellular Sells Towers to Vertical Bridge

CHICAGO, Dec. 11, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — United States Cellular Corporation (NYSE: USM) today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement with Vertical Bridge Holdings, LLC to sell 595 towers for approximately $159 million. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2015.

“We are very pleased to announce this transaction,” said Kenneth R. Meyers, U.S. Cellular president and CEO. “We will use the proceeds from the sale of these non-strategic assets to invest in other long-term investments that position U.S. Cellular for future growth opportunities.”

“Vertical Bridge is excited to acquire this portfolio of towers in large metropolitan markets,” said Alexander L. Gellman, CEO of Vertical Bridge. “Many of these sites are in locations that would be very difficult to replace. We are also happy to work again with a quality counterparty like U.S. Cellular.”

Wells Fargo Securities, LLC and TD Securities (USA) LLC served as financial advisors to U.S. Cellular on this transaction.

Gellman Hopes to Produce Sequel to GTP Success

Former Global Tower Partners executives Alex Gellman, Mike Belski and Bernard Borghei just couldn’t walk away from the cell tower industry. Less than a year after the sale of their towers to American Tower, the three have emerged as co-founders of Vertical Bridge Holdings, a privately-owned tower company headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, that will focus on owning, operating and managing cell towers and rooftop sites in the U.S. Market.

Alex Gellman

Gellman

“When we sold GTP, we felt like we had unfinished business,” Gellman, company CEO, told AGL Link. “We saw the rapid emergence of new sites at levels that we have not seen in our industry for quite a while. We wanted to be a part of it.”

With the pipeline shifting from amendments to new leases, tower building is on the rise, according to Gellman. “The opportunities are to acquire as well as build. We are looking to do both,” he said. “We have good people, a good market and access to capital. Why wouldn’t we do this?”

Vertical Bridge recently completed two acquisitions expanding its sites portfolio in several states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Texas.

“We acquired premium locations: some roof tops and some towers, well-tenanted (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T) locations in good markets,” Gellman said. “It is a good start for us and we have an active pipeline for additional transactions queued up. More to come.”

Vertical Bridge plans to function very similarly to GTP, but will probably grow faster than that company did in the early years because of its established relationships with carriers and increased access to capital.

“We are going to grow pretty quickly. We are going to focus on building towers more than GTP did, but that is more of a function of the current market. Prices are pretty high right now,” Gellman said.

GTP was in business for 10 years and had a financial relationship with the Macquarie Group that lasted seven years. Gellman said the new company has no exit strategy.

“We are looking to build Vertical Bridge for the long haul. We believe the market is strong and it is a good, stable business,” he said. “Where we see our short term opportunities for growth is predominantly macrocell driven.”

Building the Team

Vertical Bridge has also announced the formation of its executive team. Along with Gellman, Borghei is senior vice president of operations and Belski is senior vice president of leasing and development.

Formerly with Brown Brothers Harriman, Bob Paige joined Vertical Bridge as senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions. Daniel Marinberg, previously with the international law firm Greenberg Traurig, is vice president and general counsel. Johnny Crawford, who was with SBA Communications, is vice president of development. Suzanne Docobo, a tax consultant for GTP, joined the company as vice president and corporate controller.