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Kirkland Guides Clearlake’s $700 Million Sale of Auto Interior Co.

Clearlake Capital Group LP said Thursday it will hand over South Carolina-headquartered Sage Automotive Interiors to Japanese materials and chemicals manufacturer Asahi Kasei Corp. in a $700 million deal, with Kirkland & Ellis LLP guiding the investment firm in the sale.

Sage, a provider of materials such as seating, door panel surfaces and headliners for original equipment manufacturers, will become a subsidiary of Asahi Kasei as the company looks to expand its presence in the automotive interior industry.

According to Asahi Kasei, the deal includes the assumption of more than $300 million in Sage debt, bringing the total acquisition price to $1.06 billion.

Clearlake’s sale of Sage ends a four-year ownership run in which the company significantly expanded its product lineup and sales capabilities. Sage during this time also acquired a pair of Italian companies, Miko SRL and Apollo SpA, and invested further in its Chinese joint venture, Sage Wuhan, in an effort to drive growth in those regions and beyond.

"In partnership with Clearlake, we were able to successfully pursue our vision of creating a unique, global platform," Sage CEO Dirk R. Pieper said in a statement. "This acquisition highlights Sage's success and provides a strong platform to help drive our continued growth. We look forward to working with Asahi Kasei as we continue to execute our strategy and deliver the highest quality product to our customers worldwide."

Asahi Kasei said it already supplies microfiber suede to Sage and that the two businesses have a longstanding relationship.

The Japanese company said it is looking to combine its existing capabilities in fiber, plastics and sensor manufacturing with Sage’s design, marketing and sales experience. The acquisition comes at a time when there is higher demand for greater comfort and advanced design in vehicle interiors, meaning there is significant room for growth, Asahi Kasei said.

Neither Asahi Kasei nor Clearlake said when the deal is expected to close, but the Japanese company noted that the acquisition of Sage is subject to approval by relevant antitrust authorities. Asahi Kasei said Thursday the process will move forward “as quickly as possible.”

"Today's announcement is a tremendous accomplishment for Sage and Clearlake and reflects positively upon the successful growth strategy executed during our ownership," Clearlake partner Colin Leonard said in a statement. "Sage has become a market-leading provider of high-performance technical textiles and microfiber suedes to the automotive industry, and we look forward to watching the company's continued growth in the future."

Clearlake is represented by a Kirkland & Ellis LLP team led by corporate partners Luke Guerra and Hamed Meshki and including associates Bianca Levin-Soler, Paige Scheckla and Michael Chung; tax partners Russell Light and Josh McLane and associate Joe Tobias; debt finance partners David Nemecek and Brian Ford and associate Paul Rezvani; technology and intellectual property transactions partner Vladimir Khodosh and associate Preeta Reddy; executive compensation partner Jennifer Pepin and associate Ian Sherwin; environmental transactions partner Stefanie Gitler and associate Carleigh Rodriguez; employee benefits of counsel Jack Bernstein and associate Chris Chase; labor and employment partners Matthew Keiser and Michael Schulman, real estate partner John Caruso, international trade partner Mario Mancuso and associate Luci Hague; and antitrust partners Carla A.R. Hine and Marin Boney and of counsel Mike Robert-Smith.

Asahi Kasei is represented by Morrison & Foerster LLP.

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