Skyler Ver Bruggen, ECI’s Origination Manager, discusses how the role of Origination has changed since she started working in private equity, the joy of being a dinner party expert, and her ability to channel Eliza Doolittle.
Why did you go into private equity?
Well, it was really by accident. I did English at university, which wasn’t a degree that lent itself to financial services, but I began working at an advisor called Skill Capital which was a headhunter into PE-backed companies, and that was how I learned about the industry. I then moved into Sovereign Capital and joined ECI just over two years ago. I loved that I had, and have, the chance to know entrepreneurs across different sectors, and become almost a dinner party expert in such a variety of areas. People always know now that when I say ‘fun fact’ it’s dubious about how fun it is, and it’s most often about which private equity fund is invested in what business.
What do you think makes working at ECI unique?
The people are really unique, we’re very collegiate, people really work together to help their colleagues succeed. People buy off people, so it’s not just nice that we all like each other, it helps business owners as well. When we talk about the power of our three teams – the investment, origination and commercial team – it really means something, as we all work together really well, motivated by helping management teams with what they need.
How do you think the role of M&A has changed in private equity in recent years?
It’s become a lot more important. Ten years ago, helping businesses with bolt-ons was something we could help with, but now we think of it as a key value driver. That means we’ve invested a lot in that capability, we’re spending more time ensuring we can support our portfolio through M&A, everything from helping develop the strategy, identifying potential targets, building in-house M&A functions.
One of the other big changes is companies are increasingly global, and M&A is an effective lever for companies looking to expand internationally. Being able to help management teams with that strategy and execution is becoming an expectation of private equity partnership.
What have been some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?
For me the most interesting projects are around the relationships you build. With that in mind I’ve really enjoyed working with CIPHR. Stephen and I met CEO Chris Berry prior to there being any talk of a new investor. M&A was core to the strategy so as soon as we knew CIPHR were considering a transaction we hit the ground running thinking through how we might help. Over the course of working together we’ve supported with iterating the M&A strategy, identifying potential targets, and managing the pipeline. All helped by the team’s good sense of humour at our regular M&A catch ups – expect more great things there!
What advice would you give people looking to move into origination?
There’s no set route into origination, or indeed in private equity, even if it may feel that way from the outside. What you do need from a capability perspective, is a combination of good commercial judgement and people skills. Your ability to develop relationships with business leaders, and be self-motivated in doing so is key. Finding a role where you can develop and demonstrate those skills is a great launch point.
Quick Fire with Skyler:
What’s the best present you’ve ever received?
Can I say Pan, our pet cat, who was actually a birthday present two years in a row. The first year as an actual gift, and then the following year he went missing for nine days and returned on my birthday. I’m not sure if he planned it but he did a great job.
Pub or restaurant?
Restaurant – preferably Italian with homemade pasta. There’s a family-run place near me called Ida’s, and you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s front room, it’s great.
What is your worst habit?
To quote Max, my husband, it’s ‘cheating at board games.’ I was an only child, and I think when you play board games with me that becomes apparent…
Can you do an impression of anyone?
I didn’t think so, but at the ECI virtual murder mystery party last year, I played the maid where I channelled Eliza Doolittle, and got some very positive feedback!