Comdata takes first step toward IPO

Scope of offering by 1,200-person payments venture still undecided

Brentwood-based electronic payments company Comdata said Wednesday afternoon that it has filed preliminary papers to sell its shares to the public for the first time.

Both a card issuer and transaction processor, Comdata works with more than 30,000 clients and processes more than 1 billion transaction from 45 countries annually. The company markets fleet, corporate payment, health care, virtual card and prepaid services and employs about 1,200 people. Last fall, parent company Ceridian legally separated Comdata from its human resources sister business, which retained the Ceridian brand. Comdata has since 2010 been led by Stuart Harvey, who had previously been president and CEO of Elavon (formerly Nova Information Systems) since 2005.

In a statement, company officials said they have confidentially submitted a draft stock registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It has not yet been decided how many shares Comdata will bring to market nor in what range they will be priced.

The company is majority-owned by private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners and holding company Fidelity National Financial, which specializes in title insurance but also owns — among other things — American Blue Ribbon Holdings, the parent of restaurant businesses including O'Charley's and J. Alexander's. Earlier this year, Fidelity National executives said they planned to reorganize their non-real estate investments into an entity with a tracking stock. At the time, the company pegged the combined net asset value of Ceridian and Comdata at about $1.1 billion.

The planned flotation of Comdata also is something of a trip back in time. In early 2007, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman began to pressure Ceridian's then-CEO Kathryn Marinello to spin out Comdata. That activist assault included the firing of Comdata CEO Gary Krow over the alleged leaking of information to Ackman and ended with Ceridian's $5.3 billion to the Thomas H. Lee/Fidelity National group.