PEO 2.0: MAXWELL RETURNS

Internally there was some debate at PEI about whether it was right to describe Jonny Maxwell as one of Europe's best-liked funds of funds managers in PrivateEquityOnline's story about his return to work.

We gave him the benefit of the doubt.

And our readers confirmed that at least he is one of the industry's most interesting characters. His departure from Standard Life was one of the most popular stories of last year and his comeback to spearhead German insurance giant Allianz' growth of its indirect private equity investment business tops our chart this month.

Like him or not, our readers cannot ignore him.

Maxwell, the former chief executive of Standard Life's private equity arm, has returned to management after six months “gardening leave” as the global head of Allianz's indirect private equity business in London.

Maxwell told PEO: “My mandate is to grow the business, which Allianz wants to expand significantly.” He said he was taking stock of the business in its current form to look at finessing the strategy.

With assets under management of about €7 billion, and offices in Munich, New York and Singapore as well as AGF Private Equity in Paris, Maxwell has quite a platform for an asset that is strategically important for the German insurer.

As a fund of funds rival observed: “It would be surprising if Maxwell did not start co-investing directly in deals alongside the general partners he's backing. It was what he did at Standard Life and it would give the unit a bit more juice on the returns.”

Though the tightening of the credit market may make that juice trickier than ever to extract.

In fact, Maxwell could be forgiven for not believing his eyes since coming in from the “garden”, so dramatically has the private equity landscape shifted in recent months under regulatory, political and now economic threat. Private equity firms and funds have listed and plummeted. The UK Parliament is investigating the industry. Tax and how little the industry pays, long a dirty secret, are finally under scrutiny.

The most popular stories on the site have reflected all of these themes and more. Reassuringly, some of private equity's more positive traits have also come to the foreground.

Apax Partners made a spectacular return on its 1995 investment in Healthcare at Home, returning more than 40 times its original investment through a secondary sale to Hutton Collins for around £250 million (€370 million; $510 million).

It is a reminder of the power of early-stage investing, which Apax is abandoning in favour of large buyouts.

The second most popular story since we last published concerned billionaire Sir Richard Branson's first ever foray into institutional private equity – a foray that is green and clean. He is raising a $400 million fund to invest in renewable energy opportunities. It is Branson's first traditional LP fund.

The same month saw the launch of Sir David Walker's independent report into levels of disclosure and transparency in the UK buyout business. Walker believes his guidelines can stand as a benchmark for all private businesses. But the onus in the first instance will be on the large buyout firms to conform to principles, which other private conglomerates, such as Branson's Virgin Group, can ignore.

Unfair, cry the buyout firms. Why should they have to state their intentions for portfolio firms, while other private companies stay quiet? And what if Branson's private equity fund had to comply with Walker, while the rest of his empire skipped free of the burden of conformity, making a mockery of the guidelines? Branson could offer regulatory arbitrage all under the Virgin banner: private private equity, plain private equity and partially public equity.

It was never this complex before Maxwell went on gardening leave.