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16. Libby Gibson
Partner and co-founder, Piper Private Equity (▲)
2011 saw Piper Private Equity celebrate its 25th year in the industry. It was a busy period for the firm, with investments into footwear supplier Celtic Sheepskin and £8 million into cocktail bar chain Be@One, not to mention the exit of drinks company Bottlegreen, and £107 million raised for a new fund – twice the size of the previous.
‘We are very much looking forward to the future and we would like to make up to four investments from the fund this year if we can,’ says Gibson. She admits the consumer brand market in which Piper operates is a tough one, but is still excited by what’s to come. ‘In every recession there are always growth businesses and often it is the perfect time for expansion.’
17. Mark Wignall
CEO, Matrix (▲31)
Wignall is surprised by the 2011 performance of his asset management company Matrix. ‘It’s been our best year by a country mile,’ he says, and the numbers bear out the statement. The firm has invested £31 million in seven companies, a figure roughly three times larger than 2010, and has also brought some £25 million back to its investors through three lucrative cash exits.
Wignall is loathe to predict the same success for 2012, however. He says, ‘The market is very fickle; we don’t know how things will turn out, but we will be properly resourced to capitalise on the market opportunities when they emerge.’ Wignall adds that the company will not be cutting back on staff and may even hire.
18. Bill Dobbie
CEO, Cupid (▲)
Since listing on AIM in 2010 Cupid has undergone impressive international development, achieving its goal of generating more than half its revenues overseas. The company had £8.4 million in cash on its balance sheet in its
latest results and Dobbie oversaw a slew of acquisitions last year, including two German dating businesses for £2.5 million and IndianDating.com.
‘A year ago we were one-tenth the size of Meetic [a European dating website merged into Match.com] whereas now we have increased that to one-third,’ adds the serial tech entrepreneur who set up premium-rate phone call company Teledata and sold it to Scottish Telecom in 1996.
19. Adam McConkey
Director, Henderson Global Investors (▲)
Having taken over from Gervais Williams (number 22) in 2011 as head of Henderson Global Investors’ smaller companies fund, McConkey has been a constant champion of investing at the smaller end of the spectrum. He acknowledges that too many companies are competing for the attention of too little capital but says that this imbalance provides an attractive opportunity for investors. McConkey previously spent more than ten years involved with Gartmore’s investment team, a fund which was acquired by Henderson in January.
20. David Whileman
Partner, 3i (▲21)
The head of 3i’s UK growth capital division describes 2011 as a successful year that included investment, exits and ‘fantastic portfolio stories’. The UK portfolio includes insurance broker Hyperion, restaurant chain Giraffe and manufacturer AES Seals, which has just surpassed £100 million in revenue. Last year saw a £28 million investment for a minority stake in retailer Go Outdoors and the sale of energy service provider RBG to Stork Technical Services. Keen to hit 2012 with a running start, the energetic Whileman says his division ‘is upping the game’.
21. Paul Marson-Smith
Managing partner, Gresham Private Equity (▲)
After cutting his investment teeth at 3i, Marson-Smith decided he wanted to be backing more ‘entrepreneurial’ mid-market businesses. The move took him to Gresham Private Equity, where he oversaw an MBO of the firm in 2003 and its last fundraising in 2006 following which £350 million was committed in 28 days. As for the past year, Marson-Smith describes a ‘phenomenal’ period for the private equity house, with two new investments and 12 bolt-on deals.
While quipping that Gresham exists at the ‘unglamorous’ end of private equity, with its deals rarely making national headlines, he believes investment opportunities among growing companies are more exciting than ever.
22. Gervais Williams
Managing director, MAM Funds (▲)
AIM-listed MAM saw its share price soar by more than 13 per cent in January after the group revealed assets under management held up firmly in 2011.
Small-cap champion Williams, who moved on from Gartmore before it put itself up for sale in 2010, found time to write a book in 2011 about how credit growth and globalisation have contributed to the excessive scale of the financial sector. He remains committed to investing in growing companies within easy geographical reach, commenting, ‘I expect more capital to be allocated back to companies we can see and touch.’
23. Rod Richards
Managing partner, Graphite Capital (=23)
The past year saw Graphite exit its investment in shoe retailer Kurt Geiger, netting the firm a £120 million return from its initial £95 million investment, and bolster its Micheldever Tyre Services portfolio company with a number of bolt-on acquisitions. Meanwhile, the purchase of Protocol Education through existing investment Teaching Personnel has created what Rod Richards describes as the ‘largest operator in the market’. Richards says the private equity industry still has an unfairly bad reputation for simply cutting costs but adds that ‘virtually every company in our portfolio increased its profits last year’.
24. Edward Mott
Chief executive, Oxford Capital Partners (▼19)
Oxford Capital Partners completed investments in nine companies in 2011, including mobile power specialists PowerOasis, telephone recording business Compliant Phones, and diagnostics technology company Sirigen. The company, which has offices in Oxford, Switzerland and Hong Kong, has a portfolio that spans the sustainability, healthcare and communication sectors. Looking ahead, Mott comments, ‘Our goal for the future is to continue to broaden our product range, expand internationally and look for more great investments.’
25. Mark Watts
Managing partner, Marwyn (▲)
Bucking stock market trends, the past year has seen Marwyn’s portfolio of listed companies grow an impressive 27 per cent in valuation. Among the standouts is Entertainment One, the media group responsible for popular children’s TV show Peppa Pig and film franchise Twilight, which saw CEO Darren Throop win Entrepreneur of the Year at the Quoted Company Awards. Each business in the portfolio has made at least one acquisition in the past year, with a lack of reliance on banks being pivotal to success, according to Watts. With a sixth addition to the Watts brood due in April, the next year proves to be just as busy for the former management consultant as the last.