Isa Maidan, one of ECI’s Investment Managers, discusses how ECI has supported its people during the current crisis and the short-term and long-term impacts on our portfolio and their markets.
Why did you decide to go into private equity?
I got a good insight into the private equity world when I worked in M&A at KPMG, but there were two main reasons why I made the leap from corporate finance:
Firstly, I wanted to move closer to the final decision-making process. I was keen to transition from inputting into an investment decision to being part of the team that makes the final call.
But most importantly, I wanted to continue working with businesses post transaction. Typically, in corporate finance, you spend six quite intense months with the management team and invest time in their business plan, and then once the process is over, you move on to the next deal. In private equity by contrast you live and breathe the transaction and investment for the next few years, you are constantly in touch with the team and play a role in helping deliver the plan. I found that longevity really appealing. While I still love the high energy environment of a live transaction, I felt I was missing out on key next steps by not staying close to the company after the sale and helping see its strategy come to fruition.
Given all private equity houses have the same core product (capital), I wanted to find an investor that was differentiated in people and its culture. I wanted to join somewhere where the culture allowed me the freedom to operate effectively and that had a great track record.
ECI’s longevity and strong fund performance was well known, but it was working very closely with ECI in my previous role when I sold one of their portfolio companies that convinced me that the people and culture were right for me.
During a sale process there will always be highs and lows, but ECI’s responses were always measured, thoughtful and analytical. When problems arose, as they inevitably did, ECI’s question was never “how are you going to fix it?”; it was always “what are we going to do to fix it?” There was an extremely strong emphasis on collaboration and collective responsibility which made a lasting impression on me.
Importantly, that external view I had of the culture and of people reflects my experience since joining. On my second day at ECI, I was asked to build a relatively complex model to inform an offer letter. It gave me a real sense of validation: as with my time when I was an advisor to ECI, people wanted to hear and valued my opinion – even if I was still learning everyone’s names! My experience is that ECI is the same organisation externally and internally: everyone is encouraged to contribute.
Most recently, I’ve also been proud of how the firm has responded to the current Covid-19 pandemic. We’re working hard to improve everyone’s home working experience and to remain as collaborative as during “normal” times. Even if we are not working together on anything, senior staff are regularly calling in to see how we are and how we are getting on. We’ve got bi-weekly quizzes, regular “drinks” and have started a weekly tracker whereby you can convert your weekly lockdown activities (be that baking, reading, a run or playing a musical instrument) into points which the firm is adding up and donating to charity. The whole firm, be that the investment team, the PAs, finance or marketing are stepping up and doing their bit to improve everyone’s experience of the current situation and allowing us to be effective and efficient in the current environment.
How are you working under lockdown? What is your daily routine like? What specific works and projects are you focused on?
We’ve become more focused in the last two months, continuing to speak to management teams thinking about funding, but spending much more of our time drilling down into where we can help our portfolio companies.
I look after three: Moneypenny, the world’s leading outsourced communications provider; Arkessa, a leading IoT managed services provider; and Tusker, a B2B2C business whose tech platform provides cars through salary sacrifice schemes. In addition to helping with strategic decisions around Covid-19, we also have a privileged position insofar as we can use our network of advisers and other investees, to ensure our portfolio companies are privy to the most useful information. That is allowing them to respond quickly and effectively to the current crisis.
Our role isn’t to make decisions in the portfolio ourselves, that’s for the board. We’ve operated successfully through multiple crises across the last 40 years and I see our role as using those experiences to advise and challenge the board, enabling them to make the most effective decisions.
You mentioned Moneypenny – how have they moved their entire business to remote working?
Moving the entire business of over 700 staff to home working, with the software logistics and infrastructure challenges of lockdown was a formidable challenge. I’ve been extremely impressed with the speed at which they have managed to execute this, crucially with minimal disruption to customers. The technology team and senior management worked seamlessly together and really rose to the challenge. It’s in these sort of exceptional situations that you see our brilliant management teams coming to the fore.
How do you think Covid-19 will impact Arkessa and the market it operates in?
In terms of current users of IoT, the connectivity Arkessa provides for them is often fundamental to their business model which means demand is relatively resilient compared to other sectors.
In the medium term, advancements in technology around connectivity (NB-IoT, eSIM) and reductions in the cost of data mean there is an ever-expanding list of use cases for the services it provides. On top of that, Covid-19 is disrupting businesses operations everywhere. Solving those problems requires innovation and connected devices and the service Arkessa provides can be the tools to enable that innovation.
Quick Fire with Isa:
What new hobby or habit have you picked up in lockdown?
In terms of new hobbies I’ve tried my hand at baking, I’ve managed to get cheese and marmite straws down to a fine art. I’ve even got my wife eating them who is generally anti-marmite! I also miss Arabic food and so now is a good opportunity to perfect my Biryani recipe.
What book are you currently reading?
Sputnik Sweetheart, a novel by my favourite author, Haruki Murakami.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
That by definition, you can only ever experience the emotion of happiness at this exact point in time, so don’t focus too much on the future!
Where will you go on holiday when this is all over?
Somewhere far away! Costa Rica is the most likely candidate for now.