According to private equity folklore, the original club deal was so-called because it was a transaction agreed by participants over a drink at the local golf club. While such recollections may be more fanciful than factual (and perhaps also a little tongue-in-cheek), what seems beyond doubt is that deal-doing at some point lost something of the collegiate atmosphere that once marked out private equity as a cottage industry.
By 2001, when a certain publication called Private Equity International first began landing on desks, it was widely commented upon that the cottage industry days were gone forever – replaced by something less personal and more institutional in nature. And yet the very fact that the comparison was still being made is perhaps an indicator of how much times have moved on since the second year of the new millennium was ushered in. After all, amid the frantic mealstrom of private equity in 2006, who now would even have the time or inclination to cas their minds back to the industry's humble roots?
In the pages that follow, we chart a selection of key events that have occurred within the world of private equity between 2001 and 2006. Five years may seem a rather stunted timeframe, a mere snapshot of the industry's overall chronology, And yet, in the process of compilation, it became clear to us that the exercise would be an informative one – not least as a reminder of how rapidly the magnitude of private equity has escalated.
The are different ways of measuring this, the most tangible of which is the increase in deal and fund sizes (see accompanying graphics). Back in 2001, the £2.1 billion buyout of directories business Yell was a major talking point in the UK, not least for its sheer size. The £1.45 billion debt package that supported the deal drew a sharp intake of breath from observers. Meanwhile, in the US, Blackstone Group closed the world's largest ever private equity fund on $6.45 billion. That the latter organisation has just closed a $36 billion deal and raised its latest fundraising target to $20 billion neatly illustrates that what seemed mega in 2001 appears mundane today.
But evidence of the giant strides taken by the asset class over the last five year is not only to be found in bigger deals and funds. Other factor, less tangible but certainly no less significant, have helped raise the profile of private equity and edge it slowly but surely into the realm of public consiousness. Take, for example, the growing weight of pension money being committed to funds and the increasing number and size of assets being bought from (and returned to) stock markets. The sensitivities surrounding such developments means that the asset class now finds itself being scrutinised by regulators, politicians and trade unions with unprecedented intensity – a fact of private equity life today that emerges vividly from the following pages.
Fast forward to 2011, and it will be interesting to see how private equity has responded to new pressures. Maybe by then fresh landmarks such as the $100 billion deal and the $50 billion fund will have been reached. Perhaps also, private equity will have come to appreciate that communication skills can be every bit as vital to the industry's prosperity as financial and operational prowess.