Laura Morrill, one of ECI’s Investment Managers reflects on her first 18 months at ECI, discussing tennis and the opportunity of working with highly motivational people following her arrival at Brettenham House.
Q: Why did you decide to join the world of private equity?
I worked at PWC in corporate finance for a few years, in their consumer and leisure team. Moving from one deal to another gave me lots of great early commercial exposure and the opportunity to hone my modelling and financial analysis skills, but I felt I was missing the opportunity or platform to build long term relationships with businesses – something which I felt I could get in the PE world.
I really wanted a role that gave me the chance to be more entrepreneurial but also have first-hand and direct interaction with successful, interesting and motivational people all around the world. I liked the thought of the challenge of building relationships and the trust of people across a wide range of stakeholders – management teams, advisers, investors – and developing myself to be totally all rounded – strong technically, astute commercially, financially and legally as well as honing skills that would allow me to work successfully with management teams. That was what really made me want to make the move.
Q: Why ECI?
I worked with several different private equity houses, working on deals and ECI’s name was regularly on the short list of buyers. I got to work with houses with different styles, cultures, and investment philosophies and it allowed me to work out what attributes I would look for in the house I joined. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a six-month secondment at ECI in 2017 to get a stronger feel for this. I enjoyed it so much I stayed on!
ECI’s reputation, its 43-year track record with investors and the very clear growth focus made ECI an exciting place to work.
At ECI, it’s a true partnership model with a relatively flat structure – no matter what level you are, you are given the opportunity to have a voice and everyone contributes to the decision-making process. We always challenge each other, whether you’ve been here for 12 months or 20 years, I always feel like we are all driving towards continually improving and performing to the best of our ability.
For me there are a lot of similarities with playing competitive tennis as I do – the combination of performing to your best as an individual but also working and collaborating as a team that attracted me most to ECI. Although I have yet to been successful in getting any of the team out to play a tennis match, but I will keep trying!
Q: What deals have you worked on?
I’ve had a lot more deal experience than I would have anticipated. 2018 was a bumper year for ECI as a firm, with a record number of completed deals. I worked on MThree, which sources and trains technologists for investment banks, Travel Chapter, a leading online vacation rentals platform and, 4Ways, the healthcare teleradiology provider.
There is obviously the transactional side to work through on each deal, but I have also, through these investments, got to learn the softer side of the job: how to build relationships with lots of different stakeholders, engage with a management team and ultimately be their chosen partner. Looking back, I’ve been given a very exciting level of exposure both internally and externally over the past eighteen months.
Q: What does a typical week look like?
If there is such a thing as a typical week, it isn’t here. Every day feels like a different challenge and I love that one day I could be sitting at a board meeting; another day I could be meeting with advisers for a potential new deal opportunity or another day meeting one of the many inspirational founders out there who are looking for a new partner to work with. We review around 600 plus opportunities a year, and only invest in three or four companies on average so you may spend time learning about new businesses deciding whether they might fit with ECI’s growth strategy, but it may come to nothing. Each time you do, you learn something new though and it’s about accumulating all the experiences along the way.
Q: What tips would you give for those who want to join the PE world?
Passion and drive are key. I think you have to be something of a self-starter and don’t wait for things to fall into your lap. Be proactive: go out and speak to people, find out what makes them tick, how you could work with them and that will require a strong sense of emotional intelligence to make real connections with people. You need to be as good at picking up the phone and calling a CEO that you may have never spoken to as you are nurturing and cultivating existing relationships over time. You also must constantly adapt, evolve and self-critique in a competitive market. Through tennis I learned that you need to have strong self-motivation to be successful, and to never rest on your laurels: people around you are constantly improving their game, and the same is the case for the PE world.
Q: What are the types of red flags that make you think a business isn’t worth investing in?
We have several investment criteria – growth, resilience and receptive management teams so we are always evaluating businesses against those three areas. We are looking for high growth businesses (with organic and inorganic stories) that demonstrate sustainable, resilient earnings profile (recurring revenues, long term contracts etc). When we are meeting with a management team and trying to decide if we could work successfully with them, it’s about gauging body language, trying to ascertain motivational levels of engagement between us, what is most important to them and whether there’s a level of collaboration and consistency that appears which we could see continuing post deal – chemistry is therefore key.
We also look to understand their level of ambition- where do management envisage the business being in, say, five to ten years’ time and of course we look at the quality of the data that they present – it can tell you a lot about the way businesses are run but it also illustrates the way those leading the business think and how that goes into the decision-making process.
Q: What do you think is going to be the next big trend to disrupt either the industry or sectors you work on?
When looking at any new opportunity we always think about the potential disruptive threats that might impact the business or market it operates in during our investment and beyond. We are taking a three to five-year view plus an exit story and technology, market dynamics and competitive threats will all evolve over that time frame. For example, on 4Ways last year, we spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of artificial intelligence on the healthcare industry and both the opportunities and risks that greater levels of automation and machine learning could have on 4Ways. It was interesting speaking to experts in the AI field and we are continuously learning and updating our thinking in this area.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully as a partner at ECI! I would also like to help nurture the next generation of ECI talent, particularly on the female side, continue to work with fantastic management teams and have a key role in helping deliver great results for our investors.
Quick Fire with Laura:
Roger or Rafa?
What book are you currently reading?
Eat Sweat Play – How sport can change our lives
Other than tennis, what do you like to do at weekend?
For my sins, I am a Chelsea season ticket holder so “enjoy” going to watch the mighty blues or any other sporting fixture!
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Be true to yourself and follow your gut instinct
On holiday – Beach or White-Water Rafting?
Beach every time!