15 years of PEI: 150th edition of Private Equity International

What better way for a private equity publisher to launch itself than a management buyout? The teeny, tiny deal that saw PEI Media spin out of Euromoney Institutional Investor in the autumn of 2001 didn’t use any leverage or institutional capital. But it did give us a taste of our readers’ favourite type of transaction, and it gave us an exhilarating start. We had loads of enthusiasm and next to no working capital; our constant focus on the cashflow would have made any operating partner happy.

We’d caught the private equity bug by publishing industry news through our first-ever channel, www.privateequityonline.com. Back then, the technology bubble had only just burst, and venture capitalists were rethinking their models. In the UK and continental Europe, the terms ‘VC’ and ‘private equity’ were being used interchangeably, and the buyout industry was small and largely unknown to the general public — despite Jon Moulton’s sensational attempt in 2000 to buy and rescue British carmaker MG Rover from BMW. The bid failed (as did Rover), and private equity stayed an obscure niche, away from the limelight and shielded from the media scrutiny that is now commonplace.

However, change was in the air. Outside the US, many of the institutional investors who hadn’t yet made forays into private markets seemed ever more curious and keen to follow in the footsteps of their American cousins — which was all the encouragement we needed. Of course, not everyone thought Private Equity International was a good idea: “I doubt there’s room for another trade title,” the comms chief at a global fund of funds cautioned. But our view was that as more and more capital was flowing in, the asset class could use a global and resolutely LP-flavoured publication that would talk informedly about the issues shaping the agenda.

Accordingly, our first-ever cover story focused on whether private equity needed to provide greater transparency and, if so, to whom. Issue 2 discussed the strengths and weaknesses of IRR as the industry’s performance measurement of choice. This was the sort of stuff that got us noticed, and the circulation built up quickly. Much-needed advertising support came from the likes of Candover, Royal Bank of Scotland and SEB Acquisition Finance; without them, keeping the lights on during those early days would have been even trickier.

Flicking through that first edition 15 years and another MBO later (UK mid-market specialists LDC helped the current team acquire the business in 2015) reminds me of how agile and dynamic private equity was in those days, and how it has managed to hold on to these qualities since then. Now much larger, more institutional and part of the asset management mainstream, it is also still a world where progressive financiers take risks in unusual ways, and where firms continue to innovate. Private equity hasn’t stopped evolving, and looks unlikely to do so any time soon. For us journalists, it remains an exciting place to be.