IR Insights: Equistone’s Christiian Marriott

In the latest instalment of this series, PEI catches up with Equistone’s head of investor relations to discuss the changes he wants to see in PE and the evolving role of IR professionals.

What’s most worrying for LPs these days?

Investors have been through a period of rising private equity valuations and more growth in distributions, and a lot of them are worried about managing their own allocation processes.

Christiian Marriott
Marriott: private equity needs to be less private

They are seeming exceptionally constrained by being open for meetings and attendance, and almost running to keep up. I think a lot of LPs are trying to really understand the direction of travel for valuations, not just next quarter but a few quarters out, so they can try and make judgments around if and whether they should be thinking about trading out of portfolios.

In Equistone portfolios, we have seen more launched and aborted secondary processes than we have completed processes. For LPs, I think it’s all about allocation target management.

LPs are also asking: “What does everything that’s happening in the world mean for our portfolios on the ground?” There are clearly inflationary pressures, supply chain pressures and changes to individual sectors that can be massively affected by the war in Ukraine.

Equistone is coming back to market with your latest offering, what are you doing differently this time?

This time compared to 2017 (when we were last out), we have to be nimbler with how we prioritise our time and probably a lot more sympathetic and understanding to how people are going to respond to online versus virtual or hybrid.

We would like to get in front of as many of our existing LPs as we can. And we just have to accept that probably not all of them will be willing and able to take those meetings.

We would like to do a big and deeper referencing exercise of our own. It’s going to be about trying to get our LPs to be able to do their diligence in the most efficient way possible without trying to encourage them to shortcut on anything other than their own terms.

Retail investors: are they a big opportunity for private equity?

I do believe that there is a real opportunity for private equity to do more in the retail and high-net-worth space. We’ve had an element of that in a number of funds we’ve managed for a while.

I think it’s never not been there. But it’s going to be amplified and it’s going to change. There’s a lot we as private equity managers are going to need to do to match what retail investors need. There are some bright people in the middle – the gatekeepers and fund of funds managers doing all sorts of clever things to it that are going to make it work and be managed.

It feels to me like a wave that’s already breaking and it’s going to continue.

What’s the change you want to see in the industry over the next decade?

We need to become less private. And that would interestingly be an important element of the process of attracting more retail money. I think there’s an openness there that will probably go hand in hand and be beneficial.

We’ve also got to get better at ESG and diversity, equity and inclusion. I know that’s an easy and obvious thing to say but that is now so baked into the mindset of so many people. That’s just going to carry on growing. I think there’s such an opportunity. We can become agents of change in a portfolio company because we’re investing for control, versus what happens in the mutual fund world where your entire ESG profile is predicated on which stocks you pick and how you can influence.

I’d also like us to have a different name. I haven’t got a clue what that name change would be! Private equity has always inherently had too many negative connotations because of the word private. But I think in 10 years’ time there is a chance for active ownership to be so important to companies responding to the climate crisis.

How will your job be different in five years?

All of us are going to be managing bigger teams, doing more work, being more proactive in how we hunt for capital and being more reactive to an ever-changing and ever more sophisticated buyer universe. We’re going to have to learn to really simplify things and be good at making things easy for the man or woman on the street who is going to put some of their personal portfolio into PE.

The universe of private equity firms is never getting smaller, so I think we will in five years’ time be taking further steps to be ever more proficient at describing well what we do and where it sits in the ecosystem.

I also think PE investor relations is almost becoming less and less of a sales and marketing role. I’ve been in the industry now for 25 years. I started my career in the mid-90s, you would look at people who are my age now who would talk about how they would sell to an investor and how investors would like to buy from them. Gradually that’s been eroded by the fact that there’s so much data and analytics and it’s now such an intelligence-led part of our industry.

What do you enjoy most about being an IR professional?

Predictably, it is about the people. I think it’s the proximity to real companies that are run by people – as in our management teams – and that the influence of what we do is delivered by a super interesting set of people who have to meet challenges and come up with ideas and be creative. I love the pace. It’s clearly not like high frequency hedge fund trading because we are investing in our companies for three to seven years. But when we need to get things done, they happen quickly, and they happen dynamically. I’ve always liked that element of our industry.

If you could redo any part of your career as an IR professional, what would it be and why?

Within investor relations, it would have been to have a bit more exposure to the pure Silicon Valley venture/tech side. I had some exposure to that when I was in Campbell Lutyens in the late 1990s, when the dotcom boom was happening. It was fascinating and it didn’t last very long.

But in the 15 years I’ve been at Equistone, [I was able] to join an investment bank captive and then be right in the centre of a spin-out, then to have 10 years helping to build an independent business – that’s pretty much dreamland in terms of IR. It would be hard to beat that.

Christiian Marriott is a partner and head of investor relations at Equistone. He is responsible for fundraising and leads the IR programme for current and potential investors, as well as coordinating responsible investment and ESG initiatives at the firm. Marriott joined Equistone in 2007 from MML Capital and began his private equity career with Campbell Lutyens.