Rowlands emerges as UK growth tsar

The former head of 3i Asia will preside over a review of SME funding in the UK and decide whether a state-backed equity investor will be needed to boost the economy. 3i was founded in 1945 under similar circumstances.

Chris Rowlands, the former chairman of 3i Asia, has been tasked by the UK government to assess whether state intervention is necessary to help small- and medium-sized business (SMEs) access growth capital. A similar initiative is what originally led to the creation of the firm now known as 3i.

Chris Rowlands

Listed private equity investor 3i was originally founded in 1945 as the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation by the Bank of England and the major UK banks to provide long-term funding for SMEs, which were otherwise unable to access long-term funding. The “Growth Capital Review” to be led by Rowlands could lead to the formation of a similar institution.

“This review will identify if there is a role for Government in facilitating public and private investment to address gaps in the market,” said UK business secretary Lord Mandelson in a statement. “Our priority will be to ensure that high-growth businesses, which will be very important for the economy, are able to secure the capital they need.”

Rowlands’ departure from 3i was first revealed by PEO in March this year. He joined the firm in 1984 and was latterly 3i’s Asia head. Rowlands had been among the names discussed in January this year as a potential replacement for outgoing chief executive Philip Yea – as he was in 2004, before Yea was hired to replace outgoing chief Brian Larcombe.

An advisory group will be supporting Rowlands’ review, which includes Danny Truell, chief investment officer of £13 billion (€$) charitable foundation The Wellcome Trust, and David Quysner, chairman of venture capital firm Abingworth.

The remainder of the advisory board comprises Ray Perman, chairman of state backed funding group Scottish Enterprise; Christina McComb, a former 3i director who currently works for Partnerships UK; and Dr Gordon Murray, chair of management at the University of Exeter.