Guy Hands: "When things went wrong, I had no way out. All I could do was work harder”

The controversial private equity chief tells MT about his most memorable deals, his formidable work ethic and why he has decided to only work with companies that do good.

by Paul Simpson

Donald Trump officially wrote the book The Art of the Deal. Guy Hands has lived it. And now Britain’s controversial private equity chief has written his autobiography, entitled The Dealmaker. Did he, MT wonders, read Trump’s magnum opus before putting pen to paper? Hands laughs, almost to himself: “No, I didn’t.”

The chief executive of private equity group Terra Firma Capital Partners is Zooming in from London for this interview. When he last talked at length to Management Today in 1999, a colleague described Hands as “the greatest dealmaker in the world”. When I remind him of this, he does not protest, blush or look even faintly uneasy. His critics – and he has many – will see that as arrogant but, if anything, Hands’ lack of false modesty is endearing. He is not a man for boilerplate rhetoric, management clichés or corporate platitudes. He speaks his mind and, unlike many leaders who pride themselves on doing that, he has a mind to speak.

Only Hands, you feel, could start a discussion of the psychological art of the deal by invoking country music Kenny Rogers: “His song The Gambler sums it up quite well. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em and when to walk away. If you focus too much on the money you could make, the deal becomes too attractive and you can end up overpaying when you should be walking away.”

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