Will Brian Larcombe leave 3i a better firm than when he first took its reins? Hard to say according to some who know the firm well. Larcombe, the ultimate 3i loyalist, presided over the firm during a period that spanned heady expansion and red-faced retreat.
Larcombe succeeded Ewen Macpherson as CEO in 1997, following with a 3i tradition of promoting from within. And the ranks of 3i are something that Larcombe knows well having joined the firm more than 25 years ago fresh out of university. He gained a board position as finance director in 1994.
Perhaps Larcombe's greatest achievement during his seven years in the top job was to spearhead the firm's expansion into Europe and the US. “He has led the transformation of 3i from a largely UK focused business to Europe's largest venture capital company,” said 3i chairman Baroness Hogg in the announcement of his retirement.
Says one former 3i employee: “He was a pretty good CEO in what turned out to be a difficult period for the group. He was a good negotiator, commercially astute and had an intuitive understanding of what made a good investment.”
Of course, there was a time when Europe's largest VC firm was even larger. Following the technology downturn, 3i closed seven European offices in 2001 and a further three last year. While the crash was out of the firm's control, some say internal bureaucracy prevented it from exploiting the early successes of the tech boom, and late over-exuberance led it to build out offices too quickly.
As the CEO of a public company, arguably the most useful test of Larcombe's contribution is how 3i's shares have performed. But such an examination is inconclusive. On the one hand, the shares have fallen around 65 percent since peaking at more than £17 in September 2000. On the other, the stock rose 22 percent during Larcombe's reign compared with a nine percent average fall in the FTSE 100 in the same period. That suggests that the public market – never one to tolerate the unusual for long – managed to get its head around a listed private equity investment firm, which in no small part is down to Larcombe.
Some parts of the business have had change forced upon them though. Its buyout operation was dealt a blow recently when a quartet of senior executives led by Tom Sweet-Escott quit to launch a rival firm, Exponent Private Equity. Meanwhile, 3i's own €3 billion targeted buyout fundraising looks unlikely to reach the €1.5 billion in third party commitments it had aimed for.
Attention now turns to a successor, and whether 3i will break with tradition by appointing an external candidate for the first time. Market sources say don't bet against it. Either way, the new CEO will have had a front row seat from which to view the best and worst decisions of his predecessor.
STEERS MOVES TO PANTHEON'S LONDON OFFICE
Fund of funds specialist Pantheon Ventures has revealed a number of personnel changes following its acquisition by international money manager Russell Investment Group last December. Helen Steers, who was at Russell for five years and headed the group's European private equity business, becomes a partner in the European investment team based in London and also joins Pantheon's investment committee. In addition, investment manager Nicolas Drapeau from Russell's European team has joined Pantheon's London office, while Karl Scheer from Russell's US team has joined the San Francisco office.
ABN HIRES LEVERAGED FINANCE CHIEF
ABN Amro, the European investment bank, has hired James Courtenay to take charge of its European high yield and leveraged finance business. Courtenay, a former leveraged financier at Bankers Trust, joins from CIBC World Markets. He will report to Gavin Alexander, ABN's global head of structured capital within the bank's financial markets division. Courtenay's brief is to help the bank take advantage of financial sponsors' appetite for mezzanine and high yield finance by building out its high yield offering and developing its leveraged finance team of 30.
CARLYLE LAUNCHES RUSSIA INITIATIVE
The Washington, D.C. based global private equity giant has appointed Joshua Larson and Andrei Terekhov as managing directors and co-heads in the firm's new Moscow office. Carlyle's new co-heads are no strangers to the Russian investment market. Larson formerly served as the head of Morgan Stanley's Russian investment banking operations in Moscow and Terekhov was previously senior partner and cofounder of Baring Vostok Capital Partners, one of Russia's leading private equity firms. The firm said it had decided to set up in Moscow without looking to partner with a local group after initially exploring that idea late last year. Larson and Terekhov will assemble a team of primarily Russian nationals to spearhead buyout activity for Carlyle.
LIFE SCIENCE TRIO JOINS INDEX VENTURES
The pan-European venture capital firm with offices in Geneva and London has recruited two new senior executives and a venture adviser to its life sciences team. Kevin Johnson has joined as an executive-in-residence from Cambridge Antibody Technologies, where he was chief technology officer and a member of the board. Johnson led the team that produced Humira, the first fully human therapeutic antibody. Also joining as an executive-in-residence is Gianni Garotta, who was most recently vice president of academic collaborations at Swiss biotech firm Serono. Meanwhile, Ennio Ongini becomes a venture adviser at Index alongside his current role as head of discovery at NicOx, the French pharmaceuticals group.
BRIDGEPOINT SEEKS ADVICE
The pan-European firm is the latest example of a private equity group seeking advice from senior individuals who have spent their careers outside the industry. Bridgepoint Capital has announced the appointment of Alan Milburn, Sir George Mathewson and Penny Hughes to a new advisory committee to provide advice on strategic matters to Bridgepoint and its portfolio companies. Milburn, a former Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury, joins the committee having retired from his post as UK Secretary of State for Health in June 2003. He is joined by Sir George Mathewson, the current chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Penny Hughes, who was president of Coca-Cola UK until 1995.
NEW PRIVATE EQUITY HEAD AT TRAVERS SMITH
Charles Barter has succeeded Chris Hale as head of private equity at London-based law firm Travers Smith Braithwaite, following the latter's move to head up the corporate group last year. The appointment of Barter follows that of Spencer Summerfield, who became the firm's head of corporate finance last summer. Barter was a co-founder of the firm's private equity group in 1996 and his clients include Bridgepoint Capital and Phoenix Equity Partners.
APAX BEEFS UP FINANCIAL SERVICES TEAM
Sir Peter Burt, former chief of Bank of Scotland and the new chairman of UK television broadcasting and production company ITV, has joined private equity firm Apax Partners as a senior adviser to its financial services team. Joining Sir Peter as a senior adviser is Jonathan Dawson, who has been a managing director at Lazard focused on the financial institutions sector since 1984. He remains with the bank and currently oversees its Australian activities. Stephen Green, head of financial services at Apax said the new appointees “will bring an invaluable amount of industry experience and expertise to the team.”
WIGNALL HEADS NEW GLE/MATRIX PE UNIT
Matrix Group, the London-based financial services firm, has announced the terms of its acquisition of GLE Development Capital (GLEDC), the private equity arm of Greater London Enterprise.
Under the deal, which is subject to FSA approval, GLEDC will be merged with Matrix's existing private equity business. The merger will create an entity with £65 million (€97 million; $118 million) under management and eight investment professionals.
Mark Wignall, managing director of GLEDC, will join the board of Matrix Group. He will also head up the new private equity operation, which will trade as Matrix Private Equity Partners.
David Royds, chairman of Matrix, said: “We are delighted to be joining forces with GLEDC and to have assembled an experienced private equity investment team with a broad range of investment skills.”