The world of private equity used to be simple. Buy a poorly performing,
unloved and under-invested-in part of a company. Use a huge amount of debt to
fund the purchase. Replace the management team with a stronger, better
incentivised one. Pay down the debt. Refinance. Sell on and retire to the
Now I’m over simplifying hugely and my tongue is firmly in my cheek – but
there is certainly some truth to the above. And that’s become easier to see in
the current market as private equity sits on its cash and waits for prices to
So does this mean that private equity opportunities should be less attractive
career opportunities for the finance community?
Simply put, the answer is no. In many ways the potential roles in private
equity-backed businesses are even more attractive right now than they were two
The whole focus of private equity is to make money. The way this is done is
by buying an asset and selling it for more in the future.
When you can do this through leverage and refinancing, then you don’t really
need to manage the business that much better and you will still make a profit.
When you can’t then you have to manage the business better to increase profits,
drive cash and make the business a better and valuable one.
Someone said to me recently that they bought businesses, guaranteed to reduce
the cost base and then a year later, realised they had not – and couldn’t
understand why. Well the answer appears to have hit many of them at the same
Who manages the business and the cost base best? – finance. So who are they
turning to for help in sorting out these issues – finance again.
This positions the role of finance in private equity perfectly. You are the
commercial partner to the business and you are the driver of efficiency,
integration, leaner management and cost reduction.
These have become even more key in the eyes of private equity and as a
result, have raised the role of finance even higher. It is no wonder that most
PE firms are looking carefully at the role of FD and assessing if it should be
Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Ray &
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