Investment Manager, Sarthak Sawlani, discusses why he chose to join ECI’s investment team, how his English GCSE has impacted his private equity career, and his lost party trick.
What was it that made you decide to move into private equity?
I fell into it a little bit, I never thought when I first started M&A at PwC and subsequently at Oakley Advisory that I’d move into private equity. But as you work with more funds you really start to see why it’s such a great destination. You work across lots of different industries, with lots of interesting businesses and management teams, you get to sit on boards of companies, and really enact change. You get a chance to influence strategy rather than just provide advice, which can feel like sitting on the sidelines. Here, you have to have conviction and stand by your decisions, which is quite scary but also really interesting.
Why did you decide to apply to ECI?
I had really enjoyed working with ECI on a few transactions, just recently I worked with Toby and Stephen and thought that was a great experience, it felt very different. I got the sense straight away that ECI were very honest people, reputation mattered to them – they were upfront about the deals they wanted to do or not.
My background is tech, and ECI obviously does a lot of tech investing which appealed, alongside other subsectors where I didn’t have exposure, which I thought would give me a more rounded experience.
Is there anything since you’ve joined which has surprised you?
I don’t think a lot of people know from the outside in about the – quite unique – leadership structure, with four managing partners and a rolling succession. That is actually really appealing to someone coming in – you can see the option of rising to the top of an organisation, which you don’t really get in most places which are founder-owned.
And generally, I think the organisation is flatter than I thought it would be, so you really do have access to all those managing partners. When I saw they were interviewing me I thought, okay, we’ll do these interviews and then I’ll never see them again, but day one and I’m sharing an office with Tom Wrenn. You really do feel you have access to senior people, and across the business your voice is heard and listened to.
Are there any projects you’ve been working on since joining that have been an example of that?
Yeah, I’ve been working with Stephen around PropTech – how we define the market, where the really interesting areas of growth are, and researching some of those businesses. I’ve definitely been given a lot of runway to make that my own, speak to interesting people and find out more. That’s so much more exciting than being asked to do one specific task and come back in two hours’ time with the answer.
So, is there any such thing as a typical week?
It’s a cliché but…no. You might spend it originating, speaking to advisors, other private equity funds, meeting management teams, thinking about a live deal, something coming up in the future…. One moment you’ll be doing lots of detailed analysis and the next you’ll be focussed on speaking to people and building relationships.
That variety really appeals to me, you’re consistently challenged and kept on your toes.
Are there any other areas of the market that you see as really interesting at the moment?
Cloud and digital services is a really interesting space. We’ve just exited Content+Cloud which is a great example of the quality of businesses and growth potential in the subsector. It can be difficult to unpick which businesses have that potential as they can sound like they do the same things and underneath the surface be fundamentally quite different.
Being able to leverage that knowledge from the likes of Tom and Daniel and my own experience from Oakley, means we are quite differentiated in the market, and can really build conviction in great businesses in this space.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Not necessarily received but as part of my English GCSE we read Maya Angelou, and there was a quote which said, “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.” I think that resonates with me, and especially in this industry you always meet businesses and you are always looking at the bright side but making sure you have a full view of risk ahead of investment. You can’t just have a rosy picture, but you have to really buy into the vision and ambition of the management team to be part of their journey.
Quick Fire with Sarthak:
Do you have any party tricks?
I used to be able to juggle quite well… I’m not sure if it’s now a lost party trick as I can’t remember when I last did it. I’ll have to go to a party and find out.
What’s your favourite meal to cook?
I really like cooking Asian food, especially noodles, and Thai curries. Things that are, well, easy, but also really full of flavour.
If there’s one chore you could avoid doing again, what would you choose?
Oh, definitely washing up after cooking. 100%, it’s the most annoying chore.
What three things would you take to a desert island?
Probably a cricket ball, to keep entertained. Some sort of ipod to have some tunes, my Desert Island disc would have to be Stormzy, or some sort of UK Grime. And then something practical like a knife!
Where are you most at peace?
In the water, definitely. On my desert island maybe! But I really enjoy being in the sea, you can just drown everything out.