Private equity still sets the pace

EDITOR'S BLOG: The cut and thrust world of private equity can be a remarkably effective business model.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 19 Apr 2016

Tim Parker was not accompanied by a whiff of sulphur when he entered the room for his MT interview. Neither did his brogues cover cloven feet, as far as I could tell. The 'Prince of Darkness' is a fascinating man with a CV as long as your arm and a reminder that businesspeople can be so much more interesting and thoughtful than gormless sports or acting slebs.

Parker is a private equity guy, forged in the white heat of the carry and the fixed exit. The job he did on the wheeled basket case that was Samsonite in 2008 has helped make him a very wealthy man with an estimated worth of £185 million. And it is PE in the form of Carlyle that has snapped up one of the UK's gems, PA Consulting. PA started out way back in 1943 when it taught housewives how to assemble the tail gun sections of Avro Lancaster bombers.

PA doesn't just tell businesses how to run themselves à la  McKinsey but comes up with great, innovative product ideas. I'll be first in the queue for a pair of its 3D printed glasses when they finally hit the market. I haven't changed mine for five years because my experience with Specsavers and their relentless upselling left me so cross. PA wants to shake up the whole specs game end-to-end. I'm right behind them.

PA's boss, Alan Middleton, came up with one of the more excellent uses of the English language I've heard recently when he told me, 'The thing about FMCG companies these days is that they've kaizened themselves up the wazoo.' He meant that it's all very well making small incremental changes to attempt to help profitability but there's no replacing a great new idea, a game-changing leap forward that amazes and delights customers. Cadbury which has had its good name sullied under the ownership of the third-rate Kraft organisation is a good example of this. Chiselling away at the size of a bar of Dairy Milk while charging the same price does not require any imaginative genius whatsoever.

And spare a thought for the men and women at the top. For all the outrage expressed about fat-cattery among CEOs, have you stopped to think how lonely their occupation might be? Despite being surrounded by people, you can be very alone as the buck makes its way up the pyramid to stop with you. 'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,' moaned Shakespeare's Henry IV. It's Hal, Falstaff et al who enjoy the bonhomie. So don't be lonely, join us in Birmingham on 21 April for our Inspiring Women conference (we'll even let a few lonesome bosses in).

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