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Why now’s the time to move to private equity

Forget the fact that the big leveraged deal is dead – headhunters and practitioners are adamant that now is the perfect time to begin a career in private equity. The rationale is seductively simple: funds invested at low prices during downturns tend to do better than those invested at higher prices at market peaks. For those involved, this translates into higher long-term income.

“If you look back over a one, three, five, 10, or even 20-year
track record in private equity, you will see that returns are heavily
driven by economic cycles,” says David Giampaolo, chief executive of
investment club Pi Capital.

He adds that funds that start at the bottom of the cycle and end at the top have a better chance of buying low and selling high: “Investments made during the years of an
economic slump or downturn typically occur at lower valuations.”

Funds started in times of low valuation are therefore said to have a good ‘vintage’. Guy Townsend, a private equity headhunter at search firm Walker Hamill, says the feeling is that 2009 will be a vintage to remember: “Prices will have come off a lot by then in theory and the perception is that funds will have an opportunity to do good deals.”

In the meantime, Townsend says pe funds are still hiring junior and mid-ranking staff as usual: “Private equity isn’t troubled in the same way as M&A and leveraged finance – most funds raised their money in the last year or two. They have their management fees and costs are underwritten for six to seven years, so they can take their time.”

Senior bankers hoping to shift into private equity may find the going harder, however. Brian Hamill, chairman of search firm Redgrave Partners, says funds expect their future success to come from old-fashioned turnarounds rather than the skillful use of leverage.

“We have several mandates for partner-level hires where they are looking for purely industry experience rather than investment bankers,” he adds.

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