Posts Tagged ‘investment’

A Time And A Place

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

 

What is the price of privacy and silence in a workspace? Money and demand are abundant from small medium enterprises wanting more flexible offices, and investors hurtling after them with bags of moolala. WeWork, the co-working giant, announced today that it has raised $500 million from SoftBank and Hony Capital to fuel its growth in China. I am helping another ambitious group charm professional investors with their Mandarin Oriental-style idea and secure north of a $100 million backing. Indeed, I write this sitting in my own upscale serviced office located in the heart of London’s West End.  Yet there is one drawback that almost all of these co-working/serviced office operators have not properly addressed. Co-working is great until you want privacy and silence. You struggle like hell to find it. Hip canteen or dining areas, noisy club lounges, and expensive, clunky meeting rooms with time-consuming booking systems don’t provide real-time access to the seamless professional environment and image that your most discerning clients expect. Perhaps in a techie world but sorry, not in a professional services or financial services firm. It is like asking an Englishman to adhere to a relaxed dress code at a wedding, it is carnage. I am sorry but I neither want to work in or be seen as an underpaid HR manager ghosting in a Starbucks mid-morning. Whether we like it or not, informality in a business setting has its’ limits on how we think about ourselves, our productivity and our profit.   The operator, who can truly provide a workspace with “flexible” privacy and silence is really the one to throw serious money at.

© James Berkeley 2017.

In The Eye of A Private Investor

Monday, June 5th, 2017

 

You are a C-suite executive or senior manager (probably with a successful career in a mid and large organisation) flirting with future advisory roles (Operating Partners, Senior Advisers and so forth) with private investors (Family Offices, Ultra High Net Worth individuals and some funds) and their portfolio companies. I meet half a dozen a month. Are you looking through your lens or that of the investor’s? When I ask bluntly, “why would a private investor be interested in you?”, most default to regaling their past (skills, expertise, accomplishments) or they way they like to work (imparting advice, influence, guidance). Here is the tough news, most private investors really don’t care. They want to know about

  • the “transformative value” (TV) for the investor after the Adviser has applied their past to the future of their investee businesses (logical reasoning – increased revenues, stronger brand, faster growth etc.)
  • the speed and quality of the “validation” (V) for the investor’s own reasons to back or not, a specific business (emotional reasoning – “am I going to look good”, enhanced credibility, mitigate personal risks, obtain future opportunities or relationships with peers, other investors, investee businesses etc.).

TV * V = Private Investor’s return on investment or “Great Deal”

“What”, “where”, “when” do you score highest as a potential Senior Adviser? Why? How do you get to those private investors with the highest need for that value?

Keep that equation and those critical questions uppermost in mind BEFORE you walk into your first meeting with a private investor.

© James Berkeley 2017

Profit In A False Sense of Security

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

 

I am fascinated by the probable cause when owners, Boards and top management in mid-market businesses (US$10M to US$Bn), “don’t take the money” and shortly thereafter, end up with a failing or failed business. Specifically, when a serious offer is made for growth capital or even an outright sale of the business, and in the next 6-12 months after the refusal, the fortunes of the business partially or totally collapse. Nowhere is this more visible than today’s high growth private tech businesses (the infamous “unicorns”) and in an often overlooked area, service businesses with a powerful owner-operator or managing partner in a partnership structure.

The decision-making factors are consistent throughout. The business has deliberated carefully or taken an opportunistic approach to accepting external capital or key talent. What has varied is the owners’, the Board’s  and/or top management’s judgement, resilience or trust over time. Faced with changing market conditions (regulation, technological and other convergent forces), a key client “win” or “loss”, rising/declining investor or trade interest and so on, there is a discernible change. They consciously ignore other’s prudent advice that they have implicitly trusted in the past (mitigating risk). They increasingly believe that they are “impregnable” in their market position (market hype or vanity investments). They allow common sense to be distorted by inflated but unsubstantiated talk (valuations, growth prospects, barriers to entry, unique technology etc.).

Having worked with six privately-held mid-market businesses over the past 3 years around the globe, who turned down offers and subsequently, experienced very public falls from grace (legal, e-commerce, hotels, gaming, financial services), the underlying “cause” in my experience is ultimately, poor leadership. It is people, not the business that have screwed up.

For my current and prospective clients reading this, who fear my strategic advice comes with a poison in the tail, rest assured I have had a great many more winners than losers!

Yet in the immediate aftermath of a partial or total business failure, there is a rush to assume that the firm’s opportunistic or conservative approach to accepting new capital or talent is the “cause”. That is inaccurate, and here is why. There are a great many successful businesses, who have been consistent in adopting diametrically opposed approaches to accepting external capital or ownership (in insurance, AJ Gallagher vs Hub International, in hotels, Peninsula vs. Fairmont Raffles, or in the premium art business, Christie’s vs Sotheby’s). In just the same way, sticking to niche products, services or geographies or constantly, adopting a diversification approach, is rarely the “cause” of failure.

Take great care in jumping to a conclusion. Profit is to be found, as many smart long-short investors have found, in looking out for a business owner’s, the Board’s and/or top management’s increasing false sense of security, the resulting changes in their behaviour and the positive/negative impact on their business and the competition.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Brexit: Now Britain Quits EU What Is Next

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Four years ago, I contributed to this International Business Times article on Brexit. The impoverished reporter, Moran Zhang, is now a highly paid equity analyst at a Boston asset manager. Life is good.

http://www.ibtimes.com/brexit-if-britain-quits-eu-what-then-1106522

Unlike most forecasters, I am willing to be intellectually honest about my predictions!

#1 I suggested that there was a 70% chance the UK would be still in a reformed European Union. That reform hasn’t discernibly arrived, and from Wednesday, Britain is formally leaving.

#2 I suggested there was a 25% chance the UK would be part of the “outer rings of the European Union”. That will almost certainly be the end-game in some shape or form.

#3 I suggested Brexit would be a process, not an event. There would be no zero cut-off, which is exactly what is happening. The UK will still have commitments after the formal exit date, which it must or wants to keep, for example, security cooperation.

Where Are We Today? A 20% devaluation against the USD, a more attractive export environment, a stock market near all-time highs and near record low interest rates. Signs of inflation increasingly present in the food we buy at the local stores. By almost all measures, we remain in a largely attractive environment for inwards investment, consumer confidence, albeit productivity improvements are slow to feed through and personal debt levels remain high. There remain sharp geographical distinctions. A city state in London that has abundant foreign wealth slushing around, albeit not so much into £10M+ prime residential property but still seeking a home in private equity via funds or increasingly direct investment.  A robust jobs market. In comparison, some of the provincial towns and particularly in Victorian seaside resorts, where prospects for commercial businesses and the local population are less rosy. High streets (or Main Street, as my American friends love to refer to it), is symbolised by abundant charity shops dispersed between closing down sales. Little or no meaningful investment into new economies and new careers. There is a visible political, economic and social divide.

Where Are We Headed? Does anyone really know? Of course not but that doesn’t stop us hazarding a guess. We are in for a minimum 18 months of fraught negotiation, where I think those in the strongest position (Germany) will push the case for a fair settlement with the UK and those in the weakest position, will stubbornly resist (France, Italy, Spain). Politicians will think with logic and act on emotion. Traditional enmities and grievances will be magnified. Leaving is not going to be easy for those remaining in Europe and the UK. Fault lines already visible in the UK, will become more adversarial. We have to learn not to take what others say literally but to take them seriously. That applies to those outside the political bubble, investors, businesses and those directly affected by the political decisions. It is a boom time for patient private capital that can look beyond the immediate volatility.

Life after Brexit for the UK, is also largely dependant on the speed and quality of the trading alternatives. Can the UK create or rather build powerful interfaces with non-EU members to attract abundant sources of capital, people and innovation? Can it manage that process while adhering to the need to control immigration? Probably so. The UK’s future relationship with US, China, India, Canada and so on, has two forks the public (trading agreements) and most importantly, the private sector, the ability of UK SME and mid-market firms, the largest net jobs creators, to open new foreign markets, to attract new sources of capital, to spur new innovation not simply solve existing problems and so forth. The headlines about large global employers shifting jobs are far less significant, yet the media doesn’t portray that story.

The real story is the skills, behaviours and experience each of us has to thrive in that environment. What are we going to do about it? What are we going to push our employers, employees and investors to do about it? What has got us to where we are today, is in all likelihood going to be insufficient in a post-Brexit UK.

My prediction is that in four more years, 2021, there is a 70% chance the UK is in a more prosperous position than we are today. I think there is a 20% chance that we are in a mildly negative position (period of extended sluggish growth). A 5% chance that we are in a disastrously worse position (serious recession, sharp contraction in spending).

I didn’t vote for Brexit but now we are where we are today. Private polling has shown that there is a “silent majority” (former “Remainers” and “Brexiteers”) determined to make a success of their lives. There will of course be the “Victims of Brexit”. Those who will link the decision to leave the EU to their current and future woes, while consciously disregarding their failure to personally reinvest in their own skills, behavioural traits and experience. Those, who absolve themselves from personal accountability for the decisions that are within their control.

Let’s regroup in March 2021!

Adieu.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Bring Something Meaningful

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

 

I get approached at a minimum, by 3 people a week proposing some form of “collaboration”. Most commonly, other advisers, entrepreneurs, co-investors and bankers trying to access my investor or client communities and their capital, people or innovation. In most cases, they are decent people with a genuine request, who have been a success in their corporate careers. In their latest entrepreneurial incarnation, they have “capped” out their personal networks and/or they are unable to accomplish their goals without external assistance. Their “well” is running dry and they want me to share my water. They are largely offering symbolic (greater presence or a share of faux-success fees), not meaningful value (a powerful brand or actual cash).

I am a huge believer in collaboration as a powerful form of leverage. However, first, it needs to pass my litmus test:

  1. Combined, there is a scarcity and dramatically enhanced value that will significantly impact the speed and quality of my client acquisition prospects.
  2. There is an attractive short-term business opportunity of mutual interest (potential client, visible need with a strong fit and ease of implementation).
  3. I can and definitely want to help after considering prudent risk and potential reward.

I’d suggest I am not alone if you think about the quantum of conceptual collaborative discussions that you are presented with. Do you possess these simple questions, to reach a fast conclusion or do you allow multiple meetings and information exchanges to follow before reaching a conclusion?

Above all, is the other party bringing something meaningful? Yes or No.

Nothing more is required.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Chasing An Entrepreneur’s Dream

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

SubstandardFullSizeRender

 

I ‘ve had a 40 year passion for the sport of horse racing, in particular national hunt or steeplechase racing. The global heartbeat of the sport lies in Ireland, UK and France. For four days in March, the very best horses and horsemen gather in a natural amphitheatre in the Cotswolds, 100 miles west of London, to compete for 28 races and prize money totalling £5 million. Cheltenham is Glastonbury, Burning Man and the Mid-Autumn Festival wrapped up in a visceral connection with a sport that breaks hearts and delights in equal measure. 260,000 racegoers passed through the gates last week, a great many Irish, to bet, roar approval and dance the night away in the local inns and hostelries until dawn. Male and female, men of the clergy, the soil and the City, grandparents telling tales of old to the young, and the carefree exhibiting their party tricks to any willing audience. Year after year, it is a rite of passage to have “done Cheltenham” from Roscommon to Newbury.

Yet behind this beguiling sport and its’ pinnacle, lies a modern story applicable to any growth business or industry, a tale of a sport where the elite level has created a gargantuan gulf between itself and the rest of the sport (Formula One, America’s Cup). Resilience, separates those who thrive from those who merely survive or throw it in.

Billionaire and multi-millionaire owners, who are willing to satiate their passion “blowing” £10 million a year after-tax in the hope of their horses achieving glory, albeit with zero residual value. Gucci-loafer clad bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys and vets only too happy to help.

Dramatic scientific and technological improvements (breeding, procurement, nutrition, strength and conditioning) over the past 25 years have enabled the very best trainers to create very powerful systems, backed up by dominant levels of financial capital. Competition at the elite level, will always be sustained because the nature of animals racing against each other and jumping 20 fences is not an exact science. Yet many of those in the “squeezed” middle and the lower rungs of the sport complain that their businesses are near, or at breaking point. The patronage of five powerful men has created a concentration of power and influence in the hands of a very small pool of horsemen. They are paying for glory, the big race winners. Success has bred success and breaking into the chosen clique has become extremely difficult.

Yet there is no shortage of young aspiring horsemen willing to go “all in” chasing their dreams of breeding, selling, training or riding a big race winner. Their passion is such that just like a jobbing Hollywood “runner”, they are willing to embrace the 85 hour working week on a very modest wage, and menial tasks, to work their way up the ladder. Most won’t make it, some will leave the sport with their ego dented and in good health, others won’t be so lucky, retired jockeys with broken bodies, and “burnt out” trainers with deep levels of personal debt. The sport has an incredible level of camaraderie and philanthropy, largely hidden offers of future employment, re-training or housing. It is a sport where attendance at church in the major training centres on a Sunday remains exceedingly high. Thankful for the good life, if not the good luck.

It is a sport like many industries that takes no prisoners, where no one is guaranteed success, billionaire or horse groom. It teaches us that resilience, resilient people and resilient support systems (family, friends and mentors) are key when chasing our passion and ideal career.

The black days, for they will come as certain as the sun will rise over Cheltenham’s Cleave Hill in March 2018. The hopes of many resting precariously on the back of a four-legged animal jig jogging to the start, thousands disappearing into the satchels of on-course bookies pitched in a fierce four-day battle with punters and a great many in the game, acutely aware that fate may deal them a glorious hand or consign them to the “has-been” tray forever. As entrepreneurs, we take many of the same risks and experience similar highs and lows, yet by and large, we are only humbled by defeat if we choose that pathway. Yet, we too must be realistic about the nature of our business, our ideal future and the growth journey we choose. It is great to dream but without resilience, talent and discipline, we won’t get there.  Are you willing to bet sufficiently big on yourself?

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Social Media: The Investors Perspective

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

girl-taking-a-photo-of-her-food-with-iphone-picjumbo-com

 

I get asked by investors about the role of social media in stimulating the profitable growth of mid-market business-to-consumer and business-to-business targets seeking growth capital. My default response is ‘why does someone want to share their video, tweet, blog? Then, how does it help them (entrepreneur) and you (investor) achieve your goals in the next 12 months?’ If you don’t have a compelling answer to that question, it is probably a waste of time and going to have zero impact on the firm’s growth. Review any YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook listing of most popular videos, tweets, images or blog posts and there is always that one thing that made people share it. That is the secret sauce. The son of one of my old bosses, Sam Tsui, an American songwriter, has had incredible success attracting 2.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Sam is talented (Yale-educated). He possesses a great voice. He has learned to leverage the medium with great effect (singing duets with himself) in order to create a strong brand.

However, sharing alone is insufficient for Sam and the businesses I describe because there is no taste or noise filter, think of profane rants from soccer fans, product disasters and compromising personal photos, dressed up as “comedy” or black humour.

There needs to be a “gravity” pull for your target audience and a reason to keep returning. That requires volume, value and consistent messaging (“VVM”) to create engagement. Paid promotion works to raise “conscious” awareness of your product or service for a millisecond but it does little to stimulate someone to act (subscribe, make the call, visit the store, buy). So long as you put the marketing investment in the appropriate context, there is little to worry about but you must be willing to be intellectually honest about the results.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Interview with Me: Financial Times

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

The Financial Times Wealth Correspondent, Hugo Greenhalgh, sat down with James to discuss the impact of wealth creation, investment and the stark changes occurring in parts of London’s fabric since he first arrived in 1986.

Dickens’ “Greatest Thoroughfare in London” Subsumed By Coffee Chains

https://www.ft.com/content/328a7ccc-7bfa-11e6-b837-eb4b4333ee43

Education Technology To Trump Artificial Intelligence Buzz

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

I have had three separate occurrences this past month for family members needing quick advice for a range of more serious and less serious healthcare conditions. Here in the UK, the National Health Service’s Accident and Emergency Departments have become the repository for all conditions and advice outside of normal UK working hours, irrespective of the urgency or severity of the condition. According to one enthusiastic A&E nurse in a London hospital,  at a minimum 50% of patients don’t have a condition that warrants being there! We have a healthcare customer base that is

  • Increasingly uneducated about the resolution of minor and major health illnesses and injuries
  • Struggling with the increased automation in the healthcare system
  • Rapidly growing and drawn from very diverse backgrounds and cultures
  • Expecting greater access to world-class advice and near real-time resolution of all healthcare problems
  • Expecting free or near-free cost of advice and treatment
  • Reconciled by politicians that fear to speak out about the paucity of mass healthcare education
  • Comforted by a media that is only too keen to promulgate a sense of victim hood for a good headline

The response has been to rejig the supply of healthcare resources, the productivity of those resources and the automated processes. To channel all requests for help, outside of normal UK working hours, to emergency healthcare professionals, to ask them to enforce the prioritisation of all out-of-hours healthcare treatments, to perform to their best and to be on the front line taking the flak from patients and dependants frustrated at average wait times. Who would want to work in A&E?

Surely in this mobile-connected age there is a higher touch higher tech solution to the education, prioritisation, delivery of advice and resolution of illnesses and injuries? We are moving away from the archaic idea that every child gets the same textbook in school and in future embracing “adaptive learning”, where every child has materials updated in real time, customised to what they know and how they learn best. Using software to handle the basics and freeing children and teachers to spend the rest of the day interacting on group projects and personalised instruction. A back to the future revolution, not a dependence on online learning.

We have spent billions building “algorithms” that allow machines to ape human behaviour (artificial intelligence) but a tiny percentage of that on aiding humans to become smarter than the automation suppressing our talents and enthusiasm in the workplace. The NHS is but one example where we need to leverage technology to enhance, not replace us. To invest in human intelligence (customers, managers, employees and payors).

The same applies in almost every business. We suck the energy and life out of our employees and clients, asking them to perform basic activities without regard to the outcomes (onboarding clients, resolving complaints, adhering to redundant policies and procedures etc.). The automation is swamping their abilities to apply common sense, to provide outstanding customer service (speed and quality of response), to create loyal and “permanent” customers and in return obtain fulfilment from their work. How else explain the rising boredom levels in almost every professional workplace?

Yet executives in banks, insurance companies, professional service firms and others respond by deploying huge amounts of capital to harness big data and analytics, to make smarter artificial underwriting, investment and advisory decisions (models, augmented reality, robots and so on).  A tiny slither of that amount on enhancing their own managers, employees and customers intelligence, and when they do, it is on prosaic “one size fits all” training programmes, where they have close to zero understanding of the return on investment. Consequently, huge swathes of the workforce, management and customers are ill prepared for the disruption.

If you are not convinced that education technology from the children’s nursery through the workplace and into senior living represents a huge growth business and investment opportunity, you are sleepwalking through life.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Uncommon Perspective

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

In just over a week we have experienced dramatic political and financial gyrations here in the United Kingdom.

  1. No one has died, sharp words have been exchanged amongst politicians, bankers, business and families.
  2. Many well meaning and educated “remain” supporters have taken their ire to the peaceful streets.
  3. The markets have plunged 8% and in the case of the FTSE 100 largely recovered while the pound remains subdued by a state of “post traumatic stress”, as the Bank of England’s Governor described the current situation.
  4. Political leaders have seen dramatic twists in their career trajectories, yet calm largely pervades in London and elsewhere.
  5. Annual rituals at Wimbledon and Henley precede with full attendances, save for outbreaks of rain.
  6. We stopped to reflect on real tragedy, the start of the Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago and the unthinkable bravery and despair of so many young people and their families.
  7. Businesses continued investing, hiring new teams and buying/selling others this week. Life is largely continuing as it did 9 days ago.
  8. For sure, there is heightened awareness of tough choices to come over the next 24 months but people are still keeping their holiday plans, discretionary spending and going about their daily business.
  9. Yet many in the media, dumbfounded that their agenda has been hijacked by an unusual consensus project a life of disarray and gloom. Resisting change and throwing barbs at the democratic majority in this country. Deal with it. You are the problem now. Don’t expect others to start handing out the hankies.
  10. Look for the new opportunities that might capture the hearts and minds of Britons and others who choose to invest their time, money and energy here.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.