Ardian’s Gombault departs as fund of funds and private debt head

Vincent Gombault, a two-decade veteran of the firm, oversaw a strategy that has grown to account for around half of the investment giant's $103bn in AUM.

Vincent Gombault, one of the most formidable figures in European private equity and largely credited with building Ardian‘s fund of funds business into the biggest player in secondaries, has stepped down from his role at the firm.

Gombault, who was head of fund of funds and private debt, stepped down in December, according to two sources familiar with the matter. He will join the firm’s supervisory committee.

Investors are understood to have been notified at the end of last month.

His departure comes seven months after the Paris-headquartered firm, which spun out of French insurer AXA Group in 2013, raised the largest pot of capital for secondaries with its $19 billion ASF VIII programme in May.

Ardian founder and president Dominique Senequier will chair a management committee comprising seven senior executives, including Olivier Decannière, head of Ardian UK, and Benoît Verbrugghe, head of Ardian USA, which will take over responsibility for the fund of funds activity, according to a statement from the firm seen by Private Equity International.

Under Gombault’s watch, Ardian’s fund of funds business has become one of the biggest in the world at $55 billion, accounting for just under half the firm’s total assets under management of $103 billion.

Ardian’s total assets under management have more the tripled since its spin-out.

At the time of the spin-out in 2013, Gombault, AXA Private Equity’s employees and executive management that included founder Senequier, managing director Dominique Gaillard, and Verbrugghe, became the largest shareholders of Ardian with a 46 percent stake.

Gombault joined what became Ardian in 1998 having been an investment manager with AXA Group’s Industrial Holdings department from 1991, according to an archived copy of his profile on Ardian’s website. Prior to that, he was an investment manager in the M&A department of Société Générale and began his career at the French Trade Commission in Detroit.

“Over a period of 22 years, and eight vintages of funds, the Ardian Fund of Funds business has grown in scale, expertise and global reach, and it will now focus on the next chapter of its growth led by a new management committee,” the statement noted.

“Vincent will remain as a shareholder and Ardian will continue to benefit from his expertise as he will join the supervisory committee of the company.”

In an interview with PEI in 2017, Gombault suggested he was less concerned with keeping an eye on his peers in the market.

“I will not speak about my competitors because I don’t know them very well,” he said. “I don’t see them very often; I don’t know their strategies. I speak with a lot of investors, I speak with a lot of GPs, but to be transparent, I have never met Jeremy Coller. I have met the head of Lexington [Partners] once but would not be able to recognise him in the street.”

Ardian’s secondaries deployment activity for 2019 – its most recently disclosed financial year – involved largely finishing off investing capital from its 2015-vintage programme and executing the biggest-ever secondaries transaction: the acquisition of a $5 billion private equity portfolio from Japan’s Norinchukin Bank.

The firm deployed $10.8 billion across 23 transactions including private equity and infrastructure in 2019, a figure almost in line with the $11.1 billion it deployed across 25 deals the previous year, according to its latest annual report.

– Rod James contributed to this report.