White Williams launches CEE fund

The New York buyout firm is looking to raise $250m to invest in Central European buyouts.

White Williams Private Equity Partners, a New York buyout firm, has launched the European Accession Fund LP, a $250m fund to invest in Central and Eastern Europe.

The fund will make investments of between $15m and $20m in buy-outs of businesses with annual revenues of $50m to $100m. The fund will target businesses operating in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states.

Dave Williams, chairman and co-founder (together with his wife Reba) of White Williams Private Equity Partners, said he picked this region because he was intrigued with the challenges of helping countries that are on the verge of joining the EU.

“I saw what happened in Spain and how the country changed – its policies, regulations and capital markets. The Accession fund is to cover the came changes in Central Europe,” he said.

In a number of Eastern European countries, the cost of borrowing capital is high. making this an expensive undertaking for indigenous companies. The region’s equity markets are underdeveloped compared with Western Europe and the US, which makes it difficult for companies to secure money through public channels.

Consequently Williams envisages a high number of investment opportunities, especially in cases where multinationals, operating in the consumer goods and services sectors, will want to enter the Central European market.

“I am confident about the region because it is an area I have been interested in for many years – it’s familiar territory,” he said.

Williams believes it will take a year to reach its target fund total. The group will then spend the next three to four years committing to investments in those CEE countries that by then will be fully-fledged members of the EU.

As well as cash injections, White Williams will offer sweat equity either through local management teams or Western managers drawn from the group’s international offices. Williams currently has around 25 investment managers working in Vienna, Prague, Bucharest, Warsaw, Bratislava, and Bucharest.

Earlier this year White Williams acquired East Fund Management, a seven-year-old private equity group with five funds focused on Central and Eastern Europe. The purchase gave White Williams $180m in assets and an additional number of managers well versed in Central and Eastern European investments.