What’s in a name?

In September, ISIS Equity Partners managing partner Wol Kolade emailed a firm update to the private equity industry.

“Given ongoing events in Syria and Iraq, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that we have decided to change our name,” he wrote. “We are no longer prepared to share it with a terrorist organisation.”

Two months later, Kolade unveiled the firm’s new name in a statement and promotional video on its newly-revamped website: Living Bridge.

Although there was little danger of mistaken identity, Kolade tells PEI, the shared name did cause problems for the firm. “The difficulties were the association. If you typed in ISIS, you didn’t get to us, you got to other stuff,” Kolade says.

Living Bridge’s circumstances are exceptional; in most cases firms choose, rather than are compelled, to change their name. However, as Living Bridge has discovered, rebranding can be an opportunity to reaffirm a firm’s message as well as the chance to reconnect with LPs.

“If you look at what a living bridge tree is, that resonates for us in terms of how we feel about how we develop and build companies: guiding, shaping over years, and building things that will last long after we’ve owned them,” Kolade says. “That’s what we’re named for. A lot of the businesses that we sell do very well long after we sell them.”

To get a new name to stick, timing is key, as Ardian general manager and head of direct funds Dominique Gaillard explains. Spinning out from the AXA Group in September 2013, AXA Private Equity decided to change its name to Ardian, and announced the decision at the same time as the spin-out. Three days later, the firm followed up with the announcement of the final close of its €2.4 billion LBO Fund V.

“During a short period of, let’s say, six months after the change of name, we had multiple pieces of news that we could use to anchor the new name into the minds of journalists, and then the public,” Gaillard says.

Around three months after the spin-out, journalists began to use the name Ardian without the parenthetical reference to AXA. “This general acceptance very quick after the change is, for me, the best demonstration that the new name is a good name,” Gaillard says.

An important consideration is how a firm’s new branding will sit alongside its competitors.

“The key is to try to be distinctive,” Kolade says. “You don’t want to look like anyone or sound like anyone.”

Given the global scope of the private equity industry, firms also need to take into account whether a name will work overseas.

“We wanted to have a simple name [that] could be pronounced as smoothly in English [as] it was in French,” Gaillard says.

Although the margin of error in choosing a firm name is wide, it is possible to get it wrong. A number of industry insiders agree that naming a firm after its founding partners does not usually sit well with LPs.

“Negative rebrandings are those where the brand name you change to has a connotation that implies something investors may find concerning about the firm, such as reliance on a single personality,” says Adam Turtle, partner at placement agency Rede Partners.

One thing’s for sure, a firm does not want to have to rebrand twice in quick succession. Choosing the right name and logo, therefore, is important. But the weight a name carries cannot be detached from the metrics behind it.

“In this industry, certain brands have a panache, they develop a reputation for quality. So I think [branding] is important, but it’s all tied up with what you actually deliver,” Turtle says. “It does ultimately come down to performance.”