“There are those who like to do things in private and those who like to do them in public. Jon's never been one for the private approach.” These were the thoughts of an industry source, reflecting on the departure of Jon Moulton from Alchemy Partners, the London-based private equity firm he founded in 1997 and ran for most of this time as managing partner.
For those now well acquainted with Moulton's capricious personality – and, frankly, who isn't? – his decision not just to resign a year earlier than scheduled but also to trash his own firm's prospects (as well as those of his successor, Dominic Slade) may come as no great surprise. After all, some were quick to point out that this was effectively self-parody – it wasn't the first time Moulton had walked out of a private equity firm, nor the first time such a walkout was given added spice by talk of personality clashes.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Moulton acted churlishly in his now-infamous letter to Alchemy LPs by airily dismissing Slade's strategic plans for the business and calling for the latest fund to be wound down. It's also hard not to be amused by aspects of Moulton's mischief-making: such as his retort that he would be ‘retiring’ for a mere 24 hours in response to Slade's best wishes for retirement (Slade appeared to be thinking of something more permanent). There has even been talk of Moulton hatching plans for a new fund.
But: To the chagrin of his critics, Moulton has a habit of being right. Let's not forget his consistently damning critique of the cheap debt-fuelled leveraged buyout boom. For this, he will be remembered as someone who accurately prophesied an accident waiting to happen. Few will likely applaud the way in which he expressed his view that the firm he founded – and in which he still has a substantial financial interest – is headed in the wrong direction. There again, these are times for plain talking. In being so blunt, Moulton may be accused of ungentlemanly conduct -but at least he's put investors fully in the picture.