George Moss, Partner at ECI, shares his advice for people looking at an investment career, his views on how the private equity industry has evolved over the last 15 years, and the doppelganger he briefly signed autographs as.
Q: How did you end up working in private equity?
Prior to joining ECI, I worked at Rothschild, having initially started working for them when living in Mexico City, and during my years at Rothschild I came across quite a few different private equity firms. The buy-side always interested me, as I wanted to work more closely with high-growth businesses and management teams, so I went to INSEAD and then moved to ECI. Private equity appealed as I wanted to see how the journey progressed after a deal and help successful businesses grow further and achieve their ambitions. I was very fortunate to make the move over to private equity and have loved having a career doing just that.
Q: Since you joined ECI, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about investing?
I would say the biggest lesson is that it’s much more about the people than numbers. It’s been the most significant lesson and I would say every year it becomes more and more evident to me. It’s a better understanding of people and relationships that enables you to unlock deals, to make investments more successful and also that actually makes the job so interesting and enjoyable.
Q: Are there any career highlights that really stand out for you?
CarTrawler was a fantastic investment and a 6x return, so that was very special. It was just a great Irish business and a very talented management team, and I was there from investment to exit as part of their journey. I remember our first meetings in Dublin, where they were in an ex-architect’s office in a converted chapel, yet by exit they were sat there in a massive purpose-built office befitting a tech giant. You could walk around that office and feel the culture, the environment, and just how much more sophisticated it was compared to when we invested, even though it maintained that same entrepreneurial feel. It was great fun to be part of such a global tech success story and watch them move through the gears over such a short period of time.
Q: How have you seen ECI and the private equity industry change since joining over 15 years ago?
I think the best private equity firms have developed more sophisticated teams which can really help businesses and provide a greater array of capabilities. You now have specialist skills across a range of areas, whether that’s support on M&A, operational improvement or D&I. Investors are now much more able to help businesses grow and add real value. Essentially, they’ve become much more effective at helping good quality businesses grow faster.
It’s a more sophisticated industry and ECI have been at the leading edge of that in the mid-market. We were quarter of the size when I joined, and the team now has much more diverse skills beyond the investment team, such as our Origination and Commercial Teams. We’ve moved our capabilities on and that’s borne out by our recent strong run of successful exits. We are clearer on what we’re looking for and better at helping those businesses move the dial. That puts us in a great position looking forwards which is exciting.
Q: Are there any big trends you see disrupting any of the subsectors you focus on?
While there are many different tech trends disrupting the subsectors I focus on, from robotics to VR to big data, the evolution and great leaps forward we’re seeing in AI capability are certainly an ever-present consideration at the moment, when we are looking at new investment opportunities.
Clearly there is a certain conversational large language model making all the headlines at the moment, but AI is something that has been in our minds for quite a while. For instance, when investing 5 years ago in 4ways, a tele-diagnostics platform, this was a major consideration. While we were initially focused on the risks, we then saw the opportunity for 4ways to effectively become a successful aggregation platform for many of the point AI solutions that were starting to be tested at that time on specific types of scans and parts of the body.
Q: What advice would you give to people starting out in private equity?
First of all, well done, you’ve chosen one of the most fascinating areas of business to work in!
Genuinely, every day, you have different challenges to solve and different things to learn about. You also get to work with some very talented people, both within your firm and in terms of the management teams you partner with.
In terms of advice, I think it’s important to find a firm where you believe in its values and they reflect yours. The deal environment is fast paced and pressurised, so you ideally want to be in a firm with a positive, low-ego and supportive work environment and be able to learn and thrive within that as part of a successful team. Finding such a firm can sometimes come down to luck, but the more you can do to find out about a firm before joining the better. Ultimately, if you can work with private equity funds before joining (as an advisor, banker or through an internship), that will help give you a sense of the variations in people and culture at different funds and help you make that decision.
Quick Fire with George:
What’s the best race you’ve ever run in?
Running in the UTMB, a 24-hour race around Mont Blanc. It covered 115km and included getting on for 10,000 meters of ascent and descent, that was pretty phenomenal! It was great to be on the start line (albeit not the finish until much later!) alongside some of the best athletes in the world too. The Atacama Crossing would have to also be in the mix; a 250km week-long race in the desert, with the Andes behind you, and temperatures ranging from subzero at night to 50 degrees in the day. It’s just so unique to be part of something like that, raising lots of money for a charity you care about and having a real adventure in an exceptionally beautiful place.
Have you ever been told that you have a doppelganger?
Are you asking this as you know I have one? I’ve been asked for autographs (and did sign one or two) as Jamie Murray and, way back, several people mistook me for Justin Timberlake. He did have curly hair back then though…
What album have you listened to the most in your life?
Think we’re out of the album era now! But I think I’d say The Colour and the Shape by the Foo Fighters. It’s their best.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m pretty good at both actually. I am not sure if it’s private equity or parenting three kids that teaches you that… I can survive on pretty limited sleep though!
How are you celebrating after a successful exit?
Well, I suppose having just done one, the answer was climbing some mountains mid-winter with my dad and my eldest son in the English Lake District. But, if I could choose anywhere, I think a good day’s skiing with a nice lunch with friends. You’d have to try and time your exit specially though…