If you’re a graduate who’s thinking of joining a private equity fund, Terra Firma has plenty to recommend it. It offers what’s said to be an “excellent” graduate training programme, along with a savings scheme that should amount to 40% of the cost of an average house in London if you stick around for five years. This might be why graduates flock to the house of Hands at the rate of 1,500 a year for just six roles. But while juniors are still curious about Terra Firma, experienced hands seem to be moving in the opposite direction. – Insiders say there’s been an exodus of senior investment staff.
Recent exits include Alex Williams, Jyrki Lee Korhonen and Michele Russo, whom Terra Firma appointed as managing directors in May 2016. Williams and Korhonen left in April and May respectively. Russo is said to have negotiated an exit at the end of the summer, but is still listed as employed on Terra Firma’s site. All three spent less than 18 months at the firm.
The departures of Williams, Korhonen and Russo follow that of other various other senior investment staff in the past year. Peter Miholich, a former managing director in Nomura’s credit business, who joined Terra Firma in September 2015 left 12 months later according to the FCA Register. Julie Williamson, a longstanding Terra Firma MD who joined from Nomura in 2002 left at the same time. Tavra Banga, a former Citi M&A banker who joined in 2007 left around January 2017.
Because of the exits, some of which were the possible result of retirement, insiders say Terra Firma has comparatively few investment-focused staff left, and that of the previous stable of managing directors with a primarily investment role, only Robin Boehringer remains on the senior management team. Terra Firma’s own site suggests there are nine members of senior management (Russo and Boehringer included): Guy Hands himself, Justin King (head of portfolio businesses), Andrew Géczy (the CEO), Trudy Cooke (mostly legal), Paul Spillane (investor relations), Dominic Spiri (finance and structuring) and Andrew Miller (operational). Last year, Terra Firma was reportedly planning to bolster its investment ranks with Iain Kennedy from the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, but the hire never happened.
Terra Firma declined to comment for this article. The apparent depletion of the firm’s senior investment team comes as Hands is reportedly planning a new £2.6bn buyout fund after withdrawing his EMI-related lawsuit against Citi and hiring Justin King (ex-Sainsbury’s) and Andrew Géczy (ex-Lloyds) last year. One insider says the senior exits are simply the result of “changes” made by Géczy since his appointment as managing director. Some may also follow Terra Firma’s reported decision to cut staff salaries in January 2016. The fund says it employs 87 people in total, and added an ex-Nomura MD to its investor relations function last May.
Terra Firma typically hires six people onto its graduate scheme annually. This year’s hires could get an opportunity to work on the firm’s new buyout fund, although it’s not clear how much of this has been raised. They should also get the chance to work with Guy Hands (juniors in London reportedly spend three months shadowing him, even though he’s based in Guernsey for tax reasons and is mostly a remote presence). And they should get an opportunity to work with members of Hands’ family: past graduate recruits include his son and nephew, both now at associate level within the firm. “We joke that it’s a bit like working for Donald Trump,” one insider says.