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A journey with private equity

08 Jul 2014

Across Europe, and beyond, venture capital and private equity play an active role in our way of life. The diversity of brands supported by these investments is illustrated during a short trip across Europe.

At Invest Europe Symposium in Vienna in June I delivered a speech about how entwined private equity and venture capital is into everyday life. The shirts we wear, the food we eat and the apps on our phones, are often sold, made, or developed by private equity-backed companies. On my way back to London, I asked family, friends and colleagues around Europe to contribute instances of where private equity crosses their daily lives – this is our journey!

As I placed my spare TM Lewin shirt into my Samsonite overnight case, I reflected on a successful and stimulating event in Vienna. My speech about a day in my life with private equity had them rolling in the aisles. I hope the conference room was fitted with Brintons’ finest carpet weave and thickest undelay or else there are likely to be some bruises. My reverie didn’t last long; a glance at my Maplin-bought alarm clock as I threw it in the case and I realised I had a plane to catch.

After checking out, I stepped outside and watched enviously as a Ducati motorbike swept past. I hailed a taxi and climbed in. On the way to the airport I had a chance to reflect again on how private equity contributes to what you see and what you don’t. I was immensely grateful to FTE Automotive for the precision brake cylinders it had for the Volkswagen in which I was sitting – particularly when the driver narrowly missed a lady in a Fat Face top exiting C&A. As we hurtled past H&M, I was sure the mannequins supplied by Noa Visual in the window wore shocked expressions.

When I regained my composure, I decided to enlist friends and colleagues some help to find even more examples of private equity in everyday life around Europe. It raised an interesting question: how should I contact them? Facebook, or LinkedIn? Maybe Twitter? In the end, I sent an email.

At the airport, I took a seat opposite Burger King and scribbled a note in my Moleskine notebook to check whether or not the airport floor tiles had been produced by Marazzi, or the internal walls put up by Permasteelisa. The children beside me were making a racket playing Angry Birds on an iPad, while their mother browsed messages on her Vertu phone. What a time to forget my Beats by Dr Dre headphones! I decided to check for responses to the email on my Dell laptop. Some spam had been caught by my Kaspersky antivirus software, but I had also been inundated with replies.

My teenage son said he had just had a sandwich on Hovis bread and assured me he would wash up with Ecover – I was more concerned about the long-term effects of Branston pickle on the DFS sofa.  My wife was checking Opodo for holiday flights as we were planning a birthday vacation for her, so I suggested she also browse Skyscanner for deals. (I hoped she would like the Desigual top I had picked up for her birthday). My daughter was listening to music on Spotify and eating cashew nuts from Holland & Barrett. While I was pleased about her healthier snack choice, did it have to be my supply of cashew nuts?

But it wasn’t just my family getting on with their everyday lives. There were responses from friends and acquaintances across Europe too.

Invest Europe colleagues in Brussels had bought whistles in Action to cheer on Belgium in the World Cup, and had failed to resist the lure of the Pierre Marcolini chocolate shop. Jens in Munich was monitoring the energy he was saving with an ista smart meter. Kim in the Netherlands had just discovered the Shazam app and had tracked down the music playing in the De Bijenkorf department. Christian was just returning home from Hôpital Privé Saint-Martin, a Medi-Partenaires hospital in France, where his wife had given birth. (I made a note to send flowers via Interflora and pick up a present at Hamleys) There were more than I had time to look at, but it was clear to me that private equity-backed companies play a huge part in the everyday lives of millions of people across Europe – not surprising given that private equity supports over 20,000 companies across the EU. I packed my laptop back into its Tumi case and made for the plane.

As I climbed the Swissport supplied steps to the plane, I resolved to have a drink when the trolley service arrived – Fever Tree Ginger Ale if they had it, Schweppes if they didn’t. After all, it had been a busy few days and a fitting end to my year as chairman of Invest Europe.

George Anson, Chair for 2013-2014, EVCA

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