Toby Fitzherbert, one of ECI’s Investment Managers, discusses what he enjoys about working in private equity and what inspires him when he meets a business.
Why did you choose private equity for a career?
Well, I have to say my career got off to a dreadful start as my first job was joining Lehman Brothers in the summer of 2008, so I was then looking for a new job about 8 weeks later! I then got a job in the financial markets’ division at Standard Chartered. While I did enjoy the excitement of working on a trading floor, it made me realise I wanted to do something with more variety. Therefore, I decided to do an MBA at London Business School to explore other options – this was an excellent experience where I got to meet some amazing people.
It was there that I decided that I wanted to get into private equity, for three main reasons. Firstly, I saw how much exposure you got to distinctive businesses in different markets, and I liked the idea of working alongside impressive founders and entrepreneurs. That ties in with the second reason – I saw that it was much more relationship focused, whether that is with management teams, advisors or investors. I like getting to know people and understanding what motivates them. Lastly, I liked the change and challenge of it all. Constantly meeting new people, new businesses and getting your head around different markets and experiences – it’s an unending opportunity to learn and discover. I was lucky to do an internship at one PE firm during my MBA, and then after I graduated, I spent three years working for a mid-market family office private equity firm before joining ECI in 2018.
What made you choose to join ECI?
They had an excellent reputation in the market, both for a long heritage and strong track record, but importantly for me, a reputation for going about their business with honesty and integrity. That stood out to me, and during the interview process I got a sense that the culture would suit me, which has thankfully since proven to be the case!
The team works collaboratively, both internally and externally, and I really like that everyone is constantly trying to help each other improve. Everyone’s opinions are asked for and valued as soon as you join, and it is honestly good fun working together. In my opinion, enjoying who you work alongside is one of the most fundamental parts of liking your job.
Is there such a thing as a typical week?
No! There’s so much exposure you get across the different parts of the deal cycle, whether it’s from finding great businesses, shaping and analysing a deal, delivering that deal, working with our portfolio companies, or working on an exit process, so there’s a huge amount of variety. I could be doing anything from attending a board meeting, working with a portfolio company to source new bolt-on acquisitions, analysing international markets, meeting advisors, talking to investors – it’s ever changing and keeps you on your toes. It’s what’s so brilliant about my role.
What makes you excited about a business?
The spark for me – when you know you really are excited about a business and a possible partnership together – is when you meet a great management team. When you have a team who are passionate about their business and a clear vision as to why it will succeed, it can be incredibly inspiring. I remember in 2018 meeting the management team of Bionic – they could see the opportunity that they had in the SME price comparison market and they have done a brilliant job in delivering their plan since we invested. It’s fun to work alongside their team and be a part of that journey with them.
At ECI, the people you meet during the deal process will work with you throughout, so it’s crucial that you enjoy working together. I feel genuinely lucky to work with some excellent management teams at ECI and am always looking forward to meeting more!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from an investment?
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned across our investments is that you need to expect the unexpected and learn how to pivot and be flexible. Covid-19 is a good example of that; you never could have predicted it and there’s no point panicking – it’s just a different challenge. It’s not always negative, opportunities can also be unexpected. For example, at ATG, we discovered growth areas that we might not have anticipated but being open for those opportunities and not being too rigid to a plan was key to their success.
What always comes to the fore in unpredictable times is the importance of having a resilient business model and having a strong management team. As a company, we’ve been so impressed with the way our management teams have acted throughout the crisis and our focus on resilience has served us well.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
It isn’t advice – more of a character trait – but I used to live with a very good friend of mine, and he had a wonderful attitude to life. Even if he had had a tough day at work, was stressed out or something wasn’t going to plan, he would get home and not let anything bother him – he would laugh, enjoy himself, and be excellent company to be around. This wasn’t forced either. I try to remember that all the time and have a laugh, even when things aren’t going to plan. It’s been a good attitude to have during lockdown!
Quick Fire with Toby:
What’s the best thing you’ve done during lockdown?
The best news that we have received in lockdown is that my wife is pregnant with number 3. Our other two children’s reactions when we told them were brilliant!
What was the best book you read over summer?
I have to say I enjoyed My Story of England’s Summer to Remember, by Ben Stokes – when I read it, it had been about a year since the Cricket World Cup and I was getting nostalgic for it. I’m very relieved cricket is now back on.
What’s the best place you’ve ever visited?
I loved New Zealand when I travelled around there with a few friends just before uni when we drove around in a rusty old Subaru for a month. I’d love to go back and hopefully stay in slightly better places.
Do you have any secret talents that would surprise people?
I appeared on the TV quiz show Eggheads a few years ago. Unfortunately, I lost my personal head to head (in sudden death!) Doesn’t mean I’m a good quizzer though, as my performance in ECI’s lockdown quizzes has shown.