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Choosing the Winners

The deals and dealmakers who not only survived a challenging year but thrived in it

The best word to describe the M&A practitioners who stood out in a year of thwarted dealmaking is shrewd. Take Diamond S Shipping, whose CEO waited patiently for several years for just the right deal, and then managed to line up a syndicate of top-flight investors to back it. Or take Amgen, which spent less than half a billion dollars up front to buy a vaccine that has the potential to change cancer treatment forever, while its competitors spent billions on similar bets. Then there's eBay, which shelled out a fraction of what Google did on acquisitions but crafted a more coherent strategy. The eight winners of Mergers & Acquisitions’ M&A Mid-Market Awards had what it took to get deals done in 2011.

With a few thousand middle-market transactions managing to close in 2011, how did we pick the handful to highlight? In some sense, the selection process went on throughout the year, as we kept our eyes peeled for great deals and dealmakers. In January, we began focusing on the awards in earnest. The first step was assigning each category to an editorial staff member to focus on it. Senior reporter Tamika Cody took investment banks and law firms (the latter, which she had last year). Senior reporter Anthony Noto drew the lender category, and also strategic buyer (which is what his column, The Buyside, is all about). Contributing editor Danielle Fugazy got private equity and exit of the year (the latter, which honors the seller, rather than the buyer, is new this year and was her idea). I took responsibility for the deal and dealmaker awards.

"With a few thousand middle-market transactions managing to close in 2011, how did we pick just a handful to highlight?"

The next step was to immerse ourselves in data. We took a careful look at the award submissions that flooded our inboxesWe reached out to our many sources, seeking additional submissions and suggestions. We spent many hours examining deal metrics, league tables and other information. The easy part was determining the ground rules. To be considered, deals must have closed in 2011, and they had to be worth $2 billion or less - to be consistent with Mergers & Acquisitions' editorial focus on the middle market. And then, editorial judgment took over. We agreed that the award winners had to stand out from their peers in some demonstrable way — whether through creativity or sheer doggedness (i.e., getting a deal done that other firms failed to close). We also looked hard for transactions that embodied the challenges and trends of dealmaking in 2011.

Diamond S Shipping, which won Deal of the Year, met those criteria in spades. Its purchase of 30 tankers and related charters from Cido Shipping, said to be for $1.2 billion, was the shipping industry's biggest deal in years. Diamond S was co-founded by CEO Craig Stevenson and PE firm First Reserve Corp. in 2007, and the Cido deal drew a syndicate of top-flight PE investors, including WL Ross & Co. and China Investment Corp. The transaction demonstrates the role that private equity is increasingly playing in building companies, as Jones Day partner Bob Profusek, who advised on the deal, points out.

Here are in-depth profiles of each of the nine winners, with video interviews conducted with principals, advisers, observers and editorial staff members.