What do a bankrupt 10-pin American bowling firm, a struggling Dutch pastry maker and a tiny Vietnamese mobile phone retailer have in common? It is the kind of question that crops up every year when we choose the winners of our annual Operational Excellence Awards, celebrating the GPs that have done the most to transform portfolio companies.
All three of these companies – US bowling alley operator Bowlmor AMF, Dutch baker Banketgroep and Vietnam’s Mobile World – have made this year’s winners list in another stark reminder of the power of private equity to turnaround wildly different industries.
Now in their sixth year, the search for the award winners starts in July when we ask fund managers to submit their best examples of how they deliver operational value as owners. To be eligible for this year’s awards, an investment had to be either fully or partially realised after 1 June 2016. Entries are invited from three regions – Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa. We then divided them into four categories, according to the deal’s entry price – large-cap (greater than $500 million), upper mid-cap ($150 million-$500 million), lower mid-cap ($50 million-$150 million) and small-cap (less than $50 million).
Competition was particularly tough this year. There were record entry levels in many categories, making it a difficult call for the judges, who comprise some of the leading scholars and operational experts in the private equity industry.
It’s never easy. How exactly do you balance the dizzying array of entrants in sectors ranging from financial services to outdoor retailers and Chinese tape manufacturers, all with multiples that would please even the most demanding investor? And returns are only part of the criteria. GPs are also expected to provide specific details of the changes and the initiatives they had undertaken, from product development and acquisition activity through to supply chain improvement and management enhancement.
And not just details but tangible evidence of how these initiatives created value. Impressive exit numbers were clearly a plus, but the main thing our judges were looking for was some genuinely ground-breaking work.
“The entries get better every year,” said long-time judge Steve Kaplan, professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Or as fellow judge and ex-3i executive Miles Graham put it: “This year (once again) it is more challenging to identify clear winners than last year.”
But there was widespread agreement that the 11 winners – there was no large-cap Asia-Pacific award this year – really had achieved the astonishing turnarounds we’ve come to expect from this remarkable roll of honour.
Large-cap: The Carlyle Group – Vogue International
Upper mid-market: Cerberus Capital Management – Bowlmor AMF
Lower mid-market: Francisco Partners – Paymetric
Small-cap: The Riverside Company – YourMembership
Upper mid-market: ShawKwei & Partners – YongLe Tape
Lower mid-market: Advantage Partners – Hisense Broadband Multimedia Technologies*
Small-cap: Mekong Capital – Mobile World
*Hisense is not included in the write-ups due to confidentiality issues