Richard Pearce, one of ECI’s Investment Managers, discusses why he joined ECI’s Commercial Team and what projects he is working on to support the portfolio during the current crisis.
Why did you decide to go into private equity?
I thought it would make the most of my retail and consultancy experience. I started off at Argos on their graduate scheme, first as a deputy manager of one of their stores over the Christmas period. That was a real eye opener! Then I had a stint in head office and became a buyer. It gave me a fantastic grounding in retail, but there were definitely pros and cons of working for a big organisation. There was limited variety and lots of layers and bureaucracy so it can be difficult getting things done. At the same time, you do get your hands dirty, and you see the results of your hard work. You’re also working with real people on the shop floor; it teaches you a lot.
In contrast, when working in consulting at EY Parthenon and Roland Berger, I found myself providing advice to a variety of companies but ultimately, I wasn’t responsible for implementation or seeing the satisfaction of the end results.
For me, private equity brought together all the best attributes and advantages of both these careers — great variety, problem solving, and a stake in the success or failure of your endeavours.
ECI’s values define the firm’s culture: we are carefully considered, we are naturally collaborative, we are constantly improving. I like working with and for people I get on with, and a lot of this is down to the fact I like being a team player. These are not always common values in private equity, where you can find sharp elbows and a covetous attitude to deals.
For example, I’m part of our five-strong Commercial Team. We initially get involved pre-investment, working directly with management teams to help them conceive and execute growth strategies. I didn’t want to work somewhere where the equivalent team is parachuted in after the deal is done and the company’s management may never see the partner who pitched to them again! We are a fully integrated team and we spend time with management, support the partner and the deal team, sign off on the investment and strategy, and then we work together to implement the plan. The management teams we work with benefit from that continuity, and when we succeed, we all share in that success.
What projects have you worked on?
Given my track record in retail and leisure, I’ve worked on a lot of projects with our consumer-focused portfolio, such as premium pet food business, MPM; Travel Chapter, one of the UK’s leading holiday letting agencies; and salary sacrifice, contract hire and daily rental car scheme provider Tusker.
Obviously, at the moment, we’re focused on how we can help our portfolio companies through the pandemic. The first few weeks have been very hectic but we quickly coalesced around four key workstreams: 1. cash management, helping our companies to preserve and boost liquidity; 2. debt advisory, collating market knowledge and sharing best practice around dealing with lenders; 3. government policy, helping to navigate the myriad of initiatives in the UK and abroad; and 4. people support, helping our portfolio on initiatives to support staff.
I am helping to lead the last workstream on people. In doing this we are leveraging a lot of the people-related experience and relationships we have developed over the years. Historically private equity has overlooked the importance of people, but through our 250+ investments we’ve understood that it is what really matters. Great results come when you invest in, look after and deploy your people in the best way and we have seen a clear correlation between highly engaged teams and strong commercial performance. This ultimately culminated last year in the development of a People Toolkit – a repository of tools and experience that our portfolio can call upon to create great places to work.
How has COVID changed your work focus?
We are all working from home, which creates its own unique challenges, so we’re very much focused on how to maintain engagement, productivity and well-being within our teams, and at our portfolio companies.
Our experience learned over the years and in developing the People Toolkit has been essential in helping our portfolio companies and their employees through this difficult time. We are also working to help our own people within ECI. For instance, we organised a wellbeing survey which went down very well and threw up a lot of excellent suggestions, for example around diary management. Many people now have additional responsibilities to their professional jobs, such as needing to look after the kids, providing home schooling, or shopping for elderly parents. That can cause additional stress so we’re encouraging everyone to embrace maximum flexibility.
Personally, that means a lot to me. My wife is about to have our first baby, and inevitably that’s even more stressful during the pandemic. But at least I get to be home with her and can avoid the anxiety of being in the office and constantly checking my phone for news. ECI offers a generous paternity leave policy and they are also being very flexible in the current environment.
On a practical level, we are also embracing technology solutions more than ever to remain connected. We’re using Skype, Teams and Zoom, and we had our first, remote pub quiz a few weeks ago. We’ve also set up an employee assistance programme including a hotline for employees to speak to an external HR Director and People Coach.
And of course, we are helping our portfolio companies as much as possible across those 4 central workstreams, which has included: consolidating and sharing the best content we find; drawing out lessons learned from prior recessions; negotiating portfolio-wide discount deals on software solutions; providing access to advisers and consultants – including bringing a legal firm and political advisory firm onboard on retainer – to ensure they have access and guidance on all possible schemes if they need it; or supporting on ad-hoc day-to-day requests for support at the portfolio level.
Quick Fire with Richard:
What new hobby or habit have you picked up in lockdown?
Gardening. It helps me to relax and it gets me out of the house. Also, our local gym has been brilliant at providing online exercise classes for free.
What book are you currently reading?
Manhattan Beach, a historical novel by American writer Jennifer Egan
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
A job is not worth doing unless you do it well. And treat others as you’d like to be treated
Where will you go on holiday when this is all over?
On a nice beach holiday to Mallorca