The corporates are coming

Is the private equity asset class being invaded by a new breed of manager?

Some interesting folk have shown up in private equity lately.

GLP, a large-scale player in the world of logistics properties – or “sheds” as they are known in real estate circles – has made a dramatic debut, raising 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion; €1.3 billion) and promising to raise more soon.

The firm, led by the highly regarded Ming Mei, had been investing its balance sheet capital in companies that relate to its core business of logistics. Clients of GLP’s had been keen to access these investments alongside them, so Mei decided to formalise the activity into a separate business, Hidden Hill Capital. Its first vehicle is shorter than a traditional private equity fund at seven years plus two extensions, but has a familiar looking management fee and carry structure, we are told, and the returns expectations are in line with other PE funds.

Meanwhile HNA Group, a Chinese conglomerate with interests spanning property, finance and tourism, intends to raise third-party capital for the first time. As Bloomberg first reported, the group, is plotting to raise $1.5 billion of third party capital for its Overseas Aviation and Tourism Industry Fund. It’s not clear whether this will be used to make new investments or to buy stakes in existing HNA portfolio companies, but what is clear is that it marks the conglomerate’s first foray into managing third-party capital.

Then there is SoftBank, eclipsing the others in terms of dollars raised. The company has now added new investors, including carmaker Daimler and three Japanese banks, according to the Financial Times, to its Vision Fund as it trundles towards its $100 billion target. The company’s visionary leader Masayoshi Son is already talking about a follow-up of the same size.

You could be forgiven for thinking the private equity and venture capital space is being – for want of a less hackneyed word – disrupted, by none other than large unwieldly corporates.

Certainly private equity firms have been trying to adapt to changing investor demands. They have been inventing ways to accommodate different time horizons and risk appetites among their biggest investors, as well as their need to write bigger cheques. The emergence of long-term funds is an example of this and the increase in separate accounts is another. It is not a huge leap to think that corporates, rather than private equity firms, would be the most appropriate partners.

Sector expertise has also become more highly prized among managers: six of the 50 largest firms in this year’s PEI 300 are now sector specialists, compared with just three back in 2007, and many generalist firms pitch themselves as having deep expertise in a limited number of industries. Surely, corporates can boast a clear edge in this regard.

One influential chief investment officer recently told us that while they won’t turn the industry on its head, the “disruptors” – with a particular reference to SoftBank – will have a huge impact on the way it operates. Whether that impact will positive or not is unclear.