Nicholas Pye, Buyout Guy: Age before beauty

So you may recall that the big news from Big Shop last month was that John T. Leviathan hired a new operating partner to work with the European investment team.

Now far be it from me to ever criticise any decision ever made by JTL, who, as I believe I’ve made very clear previously, is a veritable god among men in the buyout world. But I’m not sure about this one, I have to say.

For a start, surely the last thing you want to be doing at a time when morale is not at its tippy-toppiest is depriving hard-working investors of their hard-earned carry points. Technically I haven’t been able to confirm this for definite (my boss is now claiming that there’s always a bit of the carry pot left over for new joiners, and it’s coming out of that). But just the possibility is bad enough. It couldn’t hurt more viscerally if it was blood flowing from a deep stab wound to my thigh or buttock area (say).

The other point is that it looks a bit, well, desperate. As my boss put it: “It’s like the bald man who lost the fight for the comb going out and buying a wig instead.” Now metaphor isn’t my strong suit, I must admit. But I think what he means is that wigs look rubbish compared to real hair. And if your hair is thick, glossy and full of body, like mine, why would you even bother? It’s not like that that hair loss shampoo works anyway, right?

Erm. Where was I? Oh yes, metaphor. And the operating partner. In his memo to the team (which was as skilfully positioned as ever, I’ll give him that), JTL talked about how adding a few more grey hairs was all it would take to turn an A-team into an A+-team; he emphasised that LPs were perpetually banging on about this issue, and he waxed lyrical about our new guy’s extensive track record as a CEO, manager and operating exec, which by the sounds of it encompasses about half the companies in the FTSE.

So just for JTL’s sake – and because, as you know, I’m a scrupulously fair-minded person – I decided to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, and reserve judgement until I’d met him in person.

Happily, I got the chance to do just that a few days later: he emailed all the lead guys on the current deals in the portfolio asking for a sit-down, “with a view to working out where his efforts might best be spent”. So along I went. Totally open mind, as discussed.

Anyway, so the first thing you notice is that this guy is old. I mean, ancient old. Never mind FTSE blue-chips; it wouldn’t surprise me if he used to run the East India Company during the Raj. He’s also pretty much as wide as he is tall, ruddy of cheek and paunchy of jowl – like a walking advert for Type 2 diabetes (not that you’d advertise diabetes; that’d be silly).

And the other thing, if I’m honest, is that (ironically) I’m just not sure he has the stomach for it. No shame in that, of course. Not everyone can be a big dog, and I’d guessed that he wasn’t one the minute I found out he’d spent his entire career running companies for people like me, rather than trying to be a person like me. But people like that have no place in the financially and intellectually rarefied world of top-quartile buyout shops. They just can’t get the oxygen they need to breathe.

How do I know this? Well, when we sat down for our meeting, he spent a good five minutes reading the file on my olive deal in total silence, other than the occasional exhalation through his teeth. And when he finally put it down, I swear there were actual tears in his eyes.

At this point, I made my excuses and left. Because the thing he doesn’t know about me is: I eat weakness for breakfast. Lucky for him I’d already got a muffin from Starbucks that day. (NB. Metaphor.)