Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Developing A Mission Statement

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Six: Developing A Mission Statement

In the last article I laid out the seven steps for creating a Personal Business Development Plan. We discussed the first step, which is simply to perceive yourself as any other business, which means that you have a clear strategy that includes things such as goals, action items, your brand, valuation, diversification, contingency plans, and much more. As a “business of one”, you can also leverage existing tools and techniques that are widely used by businesses when formulating their strategies and translate these to your individual needs. Step Two is one such tool.

Step Two is to create your own personal mission statement. Most businesses will have some kind of a mission statement and/or vision. As a business of one, a mission statement will help you focus your business development strategy. Most people immediately think of goals when they hear “mission statement,” but your mission statement is much more (and much less) than that. A good mission statement is a broad, global description that encompasses your identity, values and long-term goals. It should be no more than 1-2 sentences. It should be something that you can refer to in any situation or when making decisions, to evaluate whether you are acting in line with your true purpose.

Sounds easy right? That’s what I thought until I sat down to write my own mission statement. Suddenly, I found myself a bit lost. How could I boil down my entire career, and even more than that, my entire existence, to one or two sentences? It took a bit of soul searching and guidance, but ultimately this is what I came up with:

My mission is to create positive impact for people and causes that I am passionate about by leveraging my expertise and network, while building ethical, balanced and successful businesses.

This mission statement contains all of the key elements of a good mission statement. It is broad and global, short and to the point, and expresses my values and motivations. For example, my values tell me it is important to make an impact in the world. I am philanthropic by nature and get involved not just with charities, but also with my individual contacts and friends. I am a born networker and am good at not only building connections for myself, but for others (like a matchmaker). I know that I want a career that is lucrative enough to give me financial independence but that also includes some degree of balance, as I value health and family.

Perhaps you already know what your mission statement is. For those of you who don’t, here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you figure it out:

  • Who are you?
  • What are your personal and professional goals?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you good at doing?
  • What are your core values?
  • What are you passionate about? What do you care about?
  • What motivates you?
  • When you retire, what do you want to have accomplished? (If this stumps you, consider writing yourself a letter from your 80-year old self to your present self).
  • What would you like your tombstone to say?

Take some time over the next couple of weeks to start thinking about these questions and crafting your mission statement. In my next article I will discuss Step Three, which will also help you define your mission.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Become A Business of One

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Five: Become A Business of One

We’ve recently been discussing how you can use business development to boost your success and improve your quality of life. I’ve given you several tips and tools, including suggesting that you develop “business development real estate™”. These tools are part of a larger strategy that will help you optimize your performance and results: A Personal Business Development Plan.

There are 7 Steps to creating your personal plan:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

Today we are going to discuss the first step, perceiving yourself as a business of one. Most companies have a business plan or strategy. This helps them set goals and targets, and creates a framework in which employees execute tasks in order to reach those goals and targets. Business plans contain comparisons to previous years and to other companies, strategies about branding, optionality and diversification, valuation, and track record. In addition, business plans usually contain contingencies, in case things don’t work out in the expected timeframe or order. Having a clear and well-thought-out business plan is crucial to a company’s success.

And yet, most individuals do not have a formal plan or strategy for their career. Some have not even given thought to the aforementioned elements, such as short and long-term goals or branding. This lack of insight, planning and organization can have a tangible impact on your success.  For instance, let’s say you are a service provider (such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant). You might be able to eke out a living by following a predetermined path and simply working diligently, but if you want to maximize your potential or work for yourself, you really need to set yourself apart from the pack. Or let’s say you are an insurance agent who is unhappy with your current job, and you’d like to move into the fin-tech world. How are you going to make that move without having to start all over again from square one?

The answer is that you need to start acting like a business entity, or as I like to say, a business of one. Like any company or business, you can take certain actions to strategically plan and organize in order to optimize your profitability, brand recognition and other potential advantages. You can figure out what your goals are, and how you can use your personal strengths and assets to achieve them. What about your personality and strengths can translate into a brand? How can you position yourself in your industry as an expert? You can measure your success and determine how you should value yourself. You can figure out what your safeguards and contingency plans are so that if you are ever fired, quit, or change your mind about what you want to do with your life, you can do that much more easily.

For example, basketball players wear a jersey with their team name on the front and their personal name on the back. They might switch to another team, but their name is still going to be on the back of the jersey. In other words, the skills, capabilities, and fame of an individual player do not change even though the player is traded to a new team. (Source:  Robert Derbabian.) Just like the basketball player, you can move to different jobs while still maintaining your personal identity.  For example, a banker can work for Goldman Sachs, quit and move to UBS without losing her skills and abilities and in some cases, her clients. Or, that same banker could decide that she wants to change careers entirely and start her own private equity firm. She has the expertise and the connections in order to make that happen.

The first step to creating your personal plan is about setting the intention to treat your career and your success like a business. The following articles will help you take that intention and turn it into a clear, organized and effective strategy.



Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: How To Build Your Own Business Development Real Estate

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article Four: How To Build Your Own Business Development Real Estate

In my last article, I discussed the importance of embracing business development and suggested incorporating your hobbies and passions into your strategy. Today, I am going to introduce you to a great tool that will help you do that: Business Development Real Estate™ (BDRE).

Years ago, I had just started working in the M&A industry at an investment firm and was looking for ways to build my network. I started hosting happy hours for other M&A professionals and colleagues in related fields, and within a year more than 200 people were attending regularly. At a certain point, the events became too large and I felt that I was spending more time as an event organizer than actually taking advantage of the networking opportunities at the events. I ended up rebranding this happy hour concept in the form of Opus Connect, which hosts smaller events (usually around 40 people) for professionals in specific industries. We also curate the attendees and speakers at our events in order to cater to more specific audiences. Opus was originally intended to simply be a personal networking opportunity for me, but eventually it grew into a national company with its own revenue stream.

The experience of rebranding my happy hours into Opus Connect is what led me to coin the term Business Development Real Estate™. BDRE is an activity or event that you host consistently, in the same format and that targets the same audience each time. While the individual attendees might change, they are always from the same target pool. Here are a few classic examples:

Luke is a wealth manager with a passion for art. Once a month, he hosts an exclusive scotch tasting event in a private art gallery that is limited to 12 individuals who have a net worth of at least $10,000,000.

Lauren is an associate at a large law firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Every quarter, she hosts a breakfast for 20 private equity executives, and facilitates a round-table discussion on a topic of interest.

The main thing that both examples have in common is that in each of them, Luke and Lauren own the event. They have control over the timing, content and who is invited to participate in the event. In addition, both events are consistent and follow the same format each time, so that people know what to expect.

The key difference between these two examples is in the quality of the event. Keeping with our real estate analogy, Luke’s BDRE is like a mansion, whereas Lauren’s (at least for the moment), is more like a starter house in an up-and-coming neighborhood. The price per square foot of Luke’s BDRE might be higher, but, just as I did when I rebranded my happy hours into Opus Connect, Lauren still has the ability to increase the price per square foot of her BDRE as she develops better connections and ameliorates her reputation. Word of mouth will drive interest and the more demand she has, the more exclusive and upscale Lauren’s BDRE can become.

BDRE is a great tool because it is easy to create and it is highly effective. It can help you gain new contacts and maintain existing connections by adding value to your attendees in the form of information and referrals. To get started, think about what you are interested in and passionate about, and think about who you need to engage. Then you just need to come up with an event that you can consistently offer to that audience. Starting out small and simple is ok, because as we saw, you can always make improvements to your BDRE and thereby increase your price per square foot.

This is just one concrete tool that you can start using right way, but in order to really become a Master of Business Development, you need a comprehensive strategy or plan. Next time, I will discuss what the outline of that plan looks like.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Going Outside of Your Comfort Zone with Business Development

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article Three: Going Outside of Your Comfort Zone with Business Development

Welcome back. Hopefully after my last two articles, you are already thinking about how you can use business development to improve your career and lifestyle. Today’s article will provide some tips for getting started. Whether you’re already using business development to help further your goals or you’re just beginning to implement this practice into your life, these tips will help you improve.

In my last article, I explained that despite the obvious benefits of business development, many people still aren’t doing it, or aren’t doing enough of it. The first reason was that some people just don’t understand the present value of doing business development, because results are not often immediately apparent. The second reason is that many people just don’t like doing business development and so they shy away from it. They feel they aren’t good at it, it goes outside of their comfort zone, and it feels like a chore. If you fall into this category, what should you do? Here are a few tips:

Acknowledge That You Have an Opportunity

Hidden inside every challenge is an opportunity. While sometimes you might dread going to networking events, talking to strangers, or taking a client out for dinner, try to focus on the positive – or the opportunity that these actions present. Business development is clearly a valuable tool that can yield powerful results. Simply acknowledging this will help you start to change the way that you feel, and in turn, the way that you are perceived.

Change Your Attitude

Forcing yourself to do business development or “faking it” will be apparent to others and negatively impact your success. To turn this around, you need to shift your attitude. Instead of dreading business development, try to embrace it. The best way to do that is to genuinely enjoy it. If you can incorporate activities that you actually enjoy into your business development strategy, it will be much easier to tolerate what you are doing. It should be easy to say yes!

Use Your Passions And Hobbies

One of the easiest ways to start enjoying business development is to turn your existing hobby or passion into a BD opportunity.  Let’s say you are are an art lover. You could join the Board of an art museum and meet other interesting and diverse professionals while simultaneously learning more about art and doing something you take pride in. Or let’s say you are into running. You could join a local running group. You might even have fun and make friends. When you incorporate your hobbies and passions into business development, your opportunity cost goes down and you can achieve multiple goals at the same time.

Treat Business Development Like A Game

Even if you are enjoying business development, it still might not be easy for you. Perhaps you are shy or feel uncomfortable bridging the gap between friendship and a professional relationship. If you feel like you aren’t a natural at business development, just treat it like a game: People can be naturally good at a game or bad at a game, but there is always room for improvement. For example, if someone isn’t naturally talented at tennis, they can still improve by taking lessons and practicing. Similarly, business development skills can be learned. Additionally, if you think of business development as a game, you can “keep score” and track your improvement. For instance, you can tally how many people you took to lunch in a certain month, or how many contacts you added to your funnel each quarter.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even if you are a natural when it comes to business development, you can always improve by practicing. Think about the sports analogy again: In many ways, training is just as important, if not more important than natural talent. Can you imagine Michael Phelps going to the Olympics without having practiced in 6 months? Without training and practice, even a natural athlete won’t be at their best.

At the end of the day, whether or not you are naturally good at business development, you can always improve. Embrace business development with the right attitude. Turn it into something you genuinely enjoy and practice it. Next time, I will explore the concept of Business Development Real Estate, which is a tool that will help you engage in business development in an effective and enjoyable way.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Why Is Business Development so Important?

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article Two: Why Is Business Development so Important?

In my last article, I defined the term “business development” and provided some insight into the concept with an example. While the benefits of doing business development may be clear to some, many people ignore or minimize its value. There are two possible explanations for this: (1) They cannot see the present value of doing business development because results are often delayed, and/or (2) they feel that they are not good at business development, it is outside of their comfort zone, and therefore they shy away from it. Regarding the first explanation, while it may be a challenge to see the immediate benefits of doing business development, it is important to understand that there are real, tangible benefits and that business development can greatly impact your life. The goal of this article is to illuminate some of those benefits.

It is no secret that people who work hard and invest their time into a venture generally perform better than those who don’t. Want to get a good grade in school? Study more. Want to make more money or get promoted at your firm? Bill more hours. While there is no doubt that hard work and sweat is a necessary component of success, in many cases business development can help you achieve results sooner and enhance your results significantly.

Here is a list of 8 ways that engaging in business development can amplify your success:

1) Financial Benefit

This is the most obvious benefit. What separates a service partner from a rainmaker at a law firm? The ability to bring in clients which, in turn, generates more revenues for the firm. Business development can also help you directly generate leads that convert into clients for your own business. Whether you are feeding your funnel with new contacts, re-engaging your current clients, or getting referrals from your network, business development can pay off.

2) Better Lifestyle

Eventually, if you have a bigger book of business you can work less hours and hire people under you to service the clients that you bring in. You can also be more selective about the clients you take on, choosing only those that you genuinely enjoy working with and that produce higher margins.

3) Leverage/Last Out

If your company is laying people off and you have your own book of business and/or a significant network, you likely won’t be the first to go. Also, you will be in a good negotiating position because you will be more desirable to other companies and firms.

4) New Employment Options

If you need or want to find another job, having a network makes it much easier. Referrals from people who are familiar with your work ethic and experience can go a long way.

5) New Ventures

Having a network makes it easier to transition into a different career with your skills and academic background. For example, a successful M&A lawyer could become an investment banker, or a successful investment banker could start her own private equity firm.

6) Career Advancement

Employees who are bringing in business are more likely to make partner or get promoted earlier.

7) Serve Current Clients Better

In the last article, I talked about value-add or “brownies”. Business development is a tool to help you provide brownies to your network. For instance, if you have a large network, you can be an excellent resource for your clients by referring them to qualified professionals. An M&A lawyer could assemble an entire team to close a deal. She could get an accountant on board, or other needed experts. Or perhaps she isn’t sure that the transaction should close, but creates value for the client by bringing together experts to help the client consider other strategic options, such as dividend recap instead of a sale.

8) Expand Knowledge Base

If you become more knowledgeable about what other people do and what they need, then you can help them better or connect them to people who can help them.  For example, I attended a political conference in which I learned about ethanol production from coal in an optional panel.  Later on, I was speaking with a CEO who mentioned ethanol production from coal. I started a discourse with him based on my knowledge I gained at the conference, and he was shocked that I knew anything at all about the subject. Apparently there are a very limited number of people in the United States that have any sort of knowledge about ethanol production from coal.  He hired me on the spot to consult him for $500 an hour.

The bottom line is that business development can help you take your goals to the next level. You might be good at what you do and work hard, but in today’s world that simply isn’t enough. Whether you’d like to make more money, get promoted faster, add value to your network, or move to another career entirely, business development is an essential skill. In my next article, we will begin to discuss how you can improve your business development skills with some specific tips.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Business Development in a Nutshell

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article One: Business Development in a Nutshell

Welcome to Mastering the Art of Business Development, a series of articles based on my personal experience coaching friends and colleagues on business development strategy. My name is Lou Sokolovskiy and I am the Founder and CEO of Opus Connect and a business development professional with 20 years of experience. Opus Connect is a professional organization for M&A executives. We produce over a hundred M&A industry-focused events worldwide each year in order to facilitate deeper and more meaningful relationships among our members and prospects.

Everyone has heard of business development. Some of us practice it on a daily basis, while others shy away from it for a variety of reasons. Wherever you are on this spectrum, this series of articles will help you improve your skills and take your career and your life to the next level. In the coming months, we will explore tips and tools as well as create a personal strategy or plan that maximizes your potential.

I’d like to start out with a basic concept – the definition of business development. “Business development” is a loaded term in today’s day and age, and can mean different things depending on who you ask. Ask ten “VPs of Business Development” or similarly business card-ed folks what it is, and you’re likely to get just as many answers.  “Business development is sales,” some will say, concisely.  “Business development is networking,” others will say, vaguely.  “Business development is hustling,” the startup folks will say, evasively.[1]

To me, business development is much more than just sales or networking. Sales generally has a very narrow focus on the end-goal of getting customers to purchase a widget or service. It is transactional in nature and is essentially a one-way street, although in some cases, salespeople will try to create and/or maintain a good relationship so they can sell more widgets/services in the future. In contrast to sales, business development is a two-way street in which one builds relationship channels leading to mutually beneficial relationships with people who you can also do business with. Under this framework, closing a deal or making a sale is a byproduct, not the primary focus.

Another common misconception of business development is that it is equivalent to networking. Networking is a helpful tool to feed your funnel and spark new connections by doing activities, going to events and meeting people. Networking is an essential part of business development when you are starting out and need to build a solid base, but after years of doing it you may even reach a point where you truly no longer need to develop new contacts. Thus, networking is a possible component of business development but it is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other tools that make up business development.

My personal definition of business development is: The creation of long-term value by establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.

The best way to understand this definition is through a real-life example. Joe is an Opus Connect Advisory Board Member who is consistently involved in our activities and events. Joe is in charge of business development in a middle market investment bank, and one of his goals is to engage clients for valuations. His target market is private equity firms, business owners and executives, and other M&A professionals. His role as an Advisory Board member at Opus Connect is a tool he uses to create a relevant value-add for his audience. A value-add is something that helps a person or organization pursue or improve their goals. For example, a lawyer who sends a referral to an accountant would be adding value to the accountant’s network, or offering him a “brownie”, as I like to say.

Returning to our example of Joe, let’s say that Joe picks up the phone to call Tom, a director of a private equity firm, to pitch him valuation services. Unless Tom needs those services at that moment and does not already have someone in mind for the job, he might not be inclined to engage with Joe at that time. On the other hand, if Joe calls Tom to offer him an opportunity to speak at an Opus Connect event, or to attend an event where he can learn something or meet new potential partners, Joe is adding value to Tom’s business. Tom will probably be much more interested in taking Joe’s call, and also will likely develop a sense of gratitude for Joe’s assistance. This ultimately has the potential to translate into a business transaction and/or referral.

Additionally, because Joe dedicates time and energy into helping Opus Connect, he has also established a long-term, now mutually beneficial relationship with me. I am always eager to help Joe out by making introductions, highlighting him at Opus Connect events, or setting up business dinners with valued contacts. Joe is creating long-term value (i.e. potential future revenue from clients, success and prestige for his firm, possibility of promotion or additional income) by offering relevant business opportunities to his network while simultaneously building and maintaining a variety of relationships.

So there you have it, business development in a nutshell. Next time, I will dive more deeply into the ways that business development can benefit your business and your lifestyle, such as increasing your income and advancing your career.

[1] What, Exactly, Is Business Development?, Scott Pollack, Forbes Online, March 21, 2012.

Chicago Chapter July 2018 Roundtable

Steve Sahara (Opus Connect Chicago Chapter Board Member)
Director, Global Financial Advisory Services at Stout

The July Opus Connect Chicago event was kindly hosted by law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner on the 26th of July at their offices. Jason Berne of BCLP welcomed approximately thirty bank, private equity, and other M&A deal intermediaries and introduced the roundtable discussion topic moderated by Steve Sahara, of Stout:

“Creative Deal Structures – How to Differentiate yourself in a Competitive Market”

  • An overriding theme from member conversation exchanges is that sellers value “Certainty of close / speed of close” – so nimble buyers that move quickly and have a demonstrable reputation and track record for hitting agreed milestones / deadlines may have an advantage.  Some strategic / international buyers may be perceived as having a longer / more opaque internal approval process and in such cases maybe disadvantaged in a competitive auction process.  Members seemed to also agree with comments that implied buyers who “Front Load due diligence” pre LOI stand out – the meaningful expense incurred shows commitment to deal / close.
  • Chilton McKnight, from Lockton commented “It was great to hear how Opus members commented on the use of Reps & Warranties insurance and how it can facilitate getting deals done smoothly / quickly”
  • Jason Berne, partner at BCLP, reasserted that he sees a lot of similarity in his deals and what was noted by some debt capital providers including how creative lending structures can be a differentiator and that including variations in collateral types, security interests and hybrid degrees of subordination in capital structures can help otherwise difficult deals get done.  Lenders who are willing to include unusual collateral pools / payment streams or partner with other lender in split collateral pools (where an ABL lender is first on some hard assets, and the enterprise lender is first on A/R and other intangible assets) can find deals that other lenders do not.  Other differentiators include being willing to accept payment streams from non-typical sources (ice machines in the south or air machines for car tires), or in high net worth financing accepting illiquid assets such as art, mineral rights or even thoroughbred horses.
  • Rick Lopez from Rush Street Capital mentioned “participants discussed a wide range of alternatives and differentiation strategies reflecting the competitive market environment, including alternative like  uni-tranche structures (i.e., a single interest rate for the borrower based on a blended senior and mezz debt offering), multi-draw facilities that provided access to funds for specific capital projects, and variable rates based on debt / leverage reduction milestones”.

London Roundtable (April. 11th): Technology and Emerging Market valuations, ICO’s and Real Estate

Colin Lloyd
Investment Writer/Presenter/Consultant
In the Long Run- Colin Lloyd Consulting


London – third event – Technology and Emerging Market valuations, ICO’s and Real Estate

In the more protectionist trade environment, technology deals have been domestic rather than cross-border.’ Opus Connect Member’

Firstly, our thanks to Tom Whelan – Private Equity Partner of Hogan Lovells for hosting the Third Opus Connect London event. More than 30 delegates attended the luncheon where family offices together with other private equity and venture capital investors gathered to discuss investment opportunities in what seems to be a fast-changing investment environment.

Tom Whelan commenced the discussion with an overview of what his firm has seen in the technology arena. Credit funds continue to fill the void of bank financing, however, the rising wave of protectionism and high valuations in the technology sector have led some investors to become more cautious at this time. Cross-border activity is lower and whilst the value of deals has risen the volume is down.

Within Emerging Markets, there has been substantial interest in Africa, especially since President Zuma stepped down in South Africa. The Chinese administration has been slow to approve external investment by domestic operators which presents an opportunity for international investors to fill the gap. A member suggested, however, that this trend was not driven so much by the government as by Chinese investors examining projects domestically. He recommended sectors such as sport and entertainment, travel and tourism, financial services and, most importantly, logistics connected with the one belt one road initiative. Even without official Chinese support, these sectors should perform strongly.

Another area which members discussed was the investment environment for Oil and Gas projects: recent interest has been high. This led to a discussion of ICO’s, since many of the recent issues have included an asset backed element to the issuance of tokens. Many large corporations are looking closely at the ICO market. One member suggested that tokens are filling the gap between bank finance and venture capital for higher risk projects.

Another member asked whether ICO’s will maintain their value in the longer term? There was general consensus that more than 90% of the existing ICO’s will prove to have no real value. However, another member mentioned research suggesting that, far from disappearing, cryptocurrencies are predicted to account for 5% of all global trade transactions by 2022. Of the delegates only five out of thirty are currently actively involved in the cryptocurrency space.

One member, who recently raised Eur23mln for an ICO, cautioned about falling foul of the US SEC. He also suggested that one should identify the underlying value in any token and be comfortable with the liquidity of the secondary market, ‘Tokens need to be traded on an exchange.’ Another member commented on the deep discounts available to large buyers of ICO’s, likening the market to PIPE – Public Investment In Private Equities – investments in the US equity market.

The debate then switched to Real Estate. A member asked whether the recent weakness in Sydney and Toronto Real Estate, is a signal for investors to take a more nuanced approach. Another member countered, suggesting that, with LTV’s of 70%, bridging finance deals are still available with yields of up to 12%. One family office advisor discussed the opportunities in assisted accommodation, both in the UK and elsewhere. She pointed out that government support for such investments made them attractive, especially if an investor was prepared to engage, ‘early,’ at the project planning stage. Outside the UK, members alluded to attractive opportunities in Vietnam and Malaysia. In the US the yield on bridging finance deals has diminished from 12% towards 9% and LTVs are nearer 80%, nonetheless plentiful capital is available, even as official interest rates increase.

The discussion ended with delegates opinions as to the largest risks to the investment environment. One member suggested the unwinding of Index Tracking investment posed the greatest threat, another focussed on the reversal of institutional flows into Risk Parity strategies. Higher interest rates and a lack of bond market liquidity were regarded as further concern and, inevitably, the prospects for a fully-fledged trade war was regarded as a significant risk to the second longest bull-market in history.

London Panel Recap: Limited Partners and Trends in Private Equity

Colin Lloyd
Investment Writer/Presenter/Consultant
In the Long Run- Colin Lloyd Consulting

Limited Partners and Trends in Private Equity

The inaugural Opus Connect London event was generously hosted, on Thursday 27th April, by Faegre Baker Daniels, at their offices near St Paul’s Cathedral. There were more than forty attendees who listened to a distinguished line-up of industry experts. Chaired by Blazo Ivanovic of recruitment specialists, Norman Alex.

The Panellists

Silvi Wompa Sinclair, who heads up the Private Equity (PE) practice at Willis Towers Watson, provided an institutional perspective on the current trends in PE. Ted Cominos, of Faegre Baker Daniels, who has more than 20 years’ experience, in the PE business, both as a lawyer and practitioner, described the place PE has within an investment portfolio alongside Real Estate and Fixed Income. Completing the panel, Francois Aguerre, Co-Head of Origination at Coller Capital, a leading player in the PE “secondaries” market, articulated the case for PE in the current environment, but cautioned investors to expect low double digit returns given the low interest rate environment prevalent in developed markets.

The Debate

The panellists covered a number of key issues including the change in investor return expectations, which have fallen as interest rates have declined, but, according to Sinclair, so too has their risk appetite. Sinclair went on to allude to a bifurcation of institutional investors approach; either choosing to invest with the largest players in the industry or focussing on specialists within a specific industry, sector or geography.

Aguerre noted the increased appetite for private debt in response to the collapse in government bond yields, whilst Cominos opined that within the equity space almost all the deals he had encountered were focussed on the technology sector.

The panellists all agreed that LPs are no longer passive investors. They have grown more demanding, especially in relation to the management fees charged on un-invested capital. Aguerre estimated that $1.4trln of PE assets are held in cash, which could amount to $20bln in management fees if fully loaded.

With equity markets entering the ninth year of a bull market, the question of what investors should expect from PE over the near term was inevitable. Sinclair noted that a number of larger investors were bringing PE investment in-house, but at the same time smaller PE specialist managers were winning mandates, whilst larger managers were taking on specialist consultants and industry experts to bridge to gap between scale and specialization. Cominos reminded the audience that, given the fiduciary obligations of many large institutional investors, larger PE managers were still garnering a larger proportion of the new capital which continues to flow into the sector. Aguerre countered that LP’s are still focussed on hiring “talent”. Cominos, concurred, stating that his own analysis showed that newer, smaller managers tended to outperform the behemoths of the industry. Sinclair suggested that, first and foremost, investors were interested in a manager’s track record. Looking ahead, at this late stage in the cycle, Sinclair urged investors to look for managers who had experience in restructuring in order to avoid a disappointingly long wait to glean acceptable returns.

The panellists’ went on to discuss the issues with the large, established General Partners (GP). Sinclair highlighted the importance of succession planning, Aguerre alluded to the importance of deal-flow, pointing out that the average GP would be expected to spend 60% of their time travelling in search of investment opportunities: a punishing schedule for someone in their forties, even more so for a manager in their sixties. Cominos picked up on the question of deal flow, pointing out that pipeline management was the key to delivering sustainable returns over the long-term.

In terms of geographic demand the panel saw growth in the US, a stable environment in Europe and a decline in interest in Asia. Sinclair mentioned that Willis Towers Watson’s clients were focussed on sectors including sustainability, cyber-security and technology.

When asked what they thought would be a significant PE trend over the next five years, Aguerre stated that he was positive about the growth of the industry given the steady pace of global economic growth. Cominos saw the trend towards manager specialization as gathering momentum, whilst Sinclair, noting that the industry was in the process on maturing, compared PE to a “teenager” with the potential to develop good or bad habits as it reaches maturity.

Roundtable Recap: Diligence Under Pressure


Steve Sahara
Stout Risius Ross


Growth through mergers and acquisitions remains a key growth strategy given slow single digit growth in GDP and other headwinds to organic growth and/or perceived risks of new product/new market development. This growth motivation, coupled with ample sources of low cost debt capital, have led to very high transaction multiples and deals that some say are “priced to perfection.” Sellers and intermediaries that represent them are driven to reduce execution risk, seek certainty of close, and minimize time in market through a well-orchestrated auction process. Many academics and consultants warn that as much as 50% to 80% of M&A transactions fail to add shareholder value, and media headlines have covered numerous high profile multi-billion dollar mergers that have failed to deliver the intended shareholder benefits, often due to factors that due diligence is designed to uncover.

Commonly cited high risk areas for transaction due diligence include: Intellectual Property, R&D, competitive analysis, accounting policy (historical and forecast results, revenue recognition, working capital), integration issues versus assumed synergies and other key business value drivers.

Interestingly, some of the most frequent items that are said to be disputed (or submitted as claims against reps and warranties insurance) include: taxes, financial statement presentation, legal & regulatory compliance, undisclosed liabilities, IP, customer contracts, and employee related issues.

Transactions with an international / cross-border component may increase risks geometrically (regulations, laws, customs) and at the most basic level foreign currency exposure in cost and/or revenue line items should be considered.

So the risks surrounding proper selection, execution, and integration of M&A targets are clear and may be equally or more challenging to address in middle market companies where, despite smaller size and often lower business complexity, there may be offsetting risks because of fewer professional resources and perhaps less developed reporting systems.

Participants commented on the increased use of sell side due diligence by PE firms to speed the process, increase perceived certainty of close, and reduce “re-trade” potential when portfolio companies are being sold.

The roundtable was moderated by Steve Sahara, SRR, hosted by Bryan Cave and sponsored by NFP, Victory Park Capital, and Baker Tilly.