Nicholas Pye, Buyout Guy: Properly canine

You’ll be delighted to hear that the wheels are still turning with this big Southern European personalised condiment deal of mine, although it’s all taking longer than I’d have liked. As usual, that’s because the seller is in a flap. Something about problems with his bank, he tells me. Whatever.

Anyway, in the meantime I figured I’d use the time to get some proper non-exec experience; I need to know exactly how to bang some serious heads together. So I asked my boss, who as you may recall is one of the partners here at the Shop, if I could tag along to some of his portfolio company board meetings (we’ve never managed to arrange it before; diaries and stuff, you know how it is). 

He looked pretty reluctant initially – no doubt wary of diverting my attention from this deal of a lifetime – but after no more than seven or eight emails, he quickly relented.

However, he did point out that under the SEC’s DEF-2U rule, I wasn’t allowed to actually say anything. That was absolutely fine by me; in fact, I was grateful to know. I hadn’t come across this regulation before, despite being probably (entre nous) the leading theorist at the shop.

Our first outing was to an external flora and décor specialist that we bought in the boom years – you know, back when it actually seemed a good idea to be spending millions on garden centres. I must say, I was kind of expecting the board to consist of a few middle aged ladies in unflattering trousers, but it turns out that we appointed a white-hot new exec team last year, as part of our unique proprietary value creation strategy to turn this dog around. So it’s now run by a slick business school type whose suit probably only cost a couple of hundred less than mine. I respect that.

As I sat there looking around at the assembled talent, I thought to myself: yes, we’re in a Holiday Inn business centre, and yes, I’m drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. But this is what it’s all about. This is why I got into buyouts.

Sadly, they’re still up against the fact that punters don’t want to waste their money on pot plants, garden gnomes and outdoor tubs when they can barely pay the shopping bills. So the business is still properly canine, as we say in the trade.

Naturally, despite my vow of silence, I’d been up until midnight the day before poring over their monthlies to try and identify some value-added insights. I presented my findings to my boss in the car on the way, but I clearly caught him at an awkward moment.

“Just email them to me, Nick,” he sighed.

“Nicholas… And wouldn’t it be easier to, you know, just talk them through right now?”

“I’m a bit busy at the moment,” he said, before leaning back and immediately going to sleep. My feedback didn’t come up in the board meeting, but I’m sure it informed his thinking.

I did have one nasty surprise on arrival at this particular meeting: it turns out that my colleague Tamara, who started at the Shop when I did, is on the board too. (You may say ‘quotas’; I couldn’t possibly comment.)

Half-way through the meeting she started spouting nonsense, as usual (something about growing topline revenues, as I recall) and I just had to cut in. “I think what Tamara is trying to say,” I suggested kindly, “is that this business needs to be very focused on rebaselining its top-down potentialities.”

Almost as soon as I finished speaking, I remembered DEF-2U – and for a good four or five seconds, I felt really bad. I know my boss was worried too, because he immediately covered his face with his hands.

Turns out there’s no harm done, though. At the end of the meeting, I asked him if we were going to get in trouble, and he said (with a sigh): “No, Nick. Not for that.”

Boom. Compliance 0, Pye 1.