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Hiring dries up in private equity

If evidence was needed that all is not well in private equity, then look no further than PE firm Unitas’ decision to close its Tokyo office earlier this month and focus on other Asian markets.

Add to that a Reuters report that says several of Unitas’ competitors have moved out of Asia altogether and it appears now is not a great time to try and land a PE job.

Demand for staff from PE firms in Japan has always been relatively low, says Samuel Griffiths, associate director of financial services at Robert Walters Japan. And recent market movements have made recruitment close to non-existent for the last six months.

“Obviously with most PE firms struggling for survival, hiring is far from a priority. The light at the end of the tunnel is going to be the activity which will be caused by distressed funds, but at this point most of the firms are still holding off making major investments and as such are not actively looking for additional hires,” Griffiths says.

Nao Batangan, a financial markets recruiter at Michael Page Japan, says the overall number of vacancies is low, but he too points to distressed funds with some hope. “There is some demand from the domestic boutiques who focus on the distressed market, targeting small and mid caps. In this sector there is a tangible sense of opportunity.”

When it comes to the kind of talent in demand, Griffiths says PE firms have always traditionally targeted professionals from M&A teams who have proven ability in corporate valuations and, to some extent, people from LBO and other lending teams to help them build their own financing teams.

“Apart from those two key areas, we have seen the few large companies in Japan bring in industry specialists to help manage key assets once they have a large exposure to a particular industry, but that normally only happens once they have made significant acquisitions,” he adds.

But it won’t be easy for bankers to land a PE job, says David Leithead, managing director of Michael Page Japan. “Bankers with execution skills abound, but the PE firms who are hiring are more focused on finding deal originators, and operating teams who in these tricky conditions can drive value growth in the portfolio. With decent PE professionals coming onto the market, the few firms that are hiring are less likely to compromise.”

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