The Business Profile - Adrian Willetts: Man Who Makes Money Talk; Martin Faint Meets Adrian Willetts, from Private Equity Company Bridgepoint, Which Is Responsible for the Stable Employment of Some 80,000 People throughout Europe

The Birmingham Post (England), June 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Business Profile - Adrian Willetts: Man Who Makes Money Talk; Martin Faint Meets Adrian Willetts, from Private Equity Company Bridgepoint, Which Is Responsible for the Stable Employment of Some 80,000 People throughout Europe


Byline: Martin Faint

A drian Willetts is a man used to seeing the transformative power of a substantial cash injection. With overall responsibility for private equity firm Bridgepoint's investment activities in the Midlands, some might think Adrian's sole goal is to turn a quick buck -to buy companies and then sell them after having cut them to shreds, disposing of their assets and crushing their staff.

But Adrian is keen to point out such impressions of private equity firms are quite wrong.

Like nearly any business Bridgepoint is there to make money, but in doing so it has proved far more focused on growing businesses to develop their latent value than the slash and burn tactics that often come to mind when companies change hands.

In fact, across its portfolio of businesses Bridgepoint is responsible for the stable employment of some 80,000 people throughout Europe.

And it's a number that Adrian seems keen to expand.

On his command the wheels could be put in motion that see tens of millions of pounds of investment capital pumped into a company. From their vast offices (for six people) in the city centre, Adrian and his team are always on the lookout for likely businesses.

It is, says Adrian, an exciting, sociable job.

'We use a lot of meeting rooms here,' he laughs. 'It's large, but most of what we do is face to face.'

With four professionals, five meeting rooms could strike some as excessive, but as Adrian says -they do get busy.

Those many rooms in the city centre HQ are there for a reason, they form the backdrop to intense negotiations as a deal hots up.

Their slightly drab, utilitarian feel belies the fact they have proved the battleground for many an acquisition. With photos of captured companies lining the walls, as Adrian sips his coffee it is evident the negotiations may be civil in nature, but there is no escaping the fact the stakes are high.

Fortunately since joining Bridgepoint in 1990 from Price Waterhouse, Adrian has proved himself something of a dab hand at the negotiations.

Before he faces down the seller in what are often long, drawn-out negotiations, a careful period of preparation has laid the groundwork. This could have stretched over six months.

'The real activity starts once you've got exclusivity on a deal,' he says. 'That leads to a much more intensive ten to twelve weeks. At that point we are coordinating professionals, accountants, lawyers.

'It's also important not to lose sight of what the business is doing. There is a lot of pressure.'

Once the deal reaches the corporate battlefield of the negotiating table, what makes a good operator?

'You need to have a number of other options so the guy over the table never gets you in a corner,' Adrian says, adding that empathy is as important as aggression.

'The ability to see the situation from the other person's point of view is vital,' he says. 'You couple these things together and you can see the little things that you can give.'

If it sounds something like a marriage, just as betrothed couples can lapse into argument over the smallest, yet most niggling points, negotiators too find that the pain can come in the detail.

'All deals are done in the margins,' Adrian explains. 'If you're buying and selling a house say, there are a range of prices you could accept and the other party is willing to pay, it's a question of meeting in the middle. There are always issues, but you can look at them two ways.'

Despite his long experience on the demanding frontline of investment, Adrian still wonders at one bizarre truth of deal making -they are always signed under a cover of darkness.

'They say that babies too are always born in the middle of the night,' Adrian laughs. 'You sign between ten and 20 pieces of paper and it's suddenly complete.

'The Champagne comes out, it's an odd feeling because the adrenaline stops pulsing. …

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The Business Profile - Adrian Willetts: Man Who Makes Money Talk; Martin Faint Meets Adrian Willetts, from Private Equity Company Bridgepoint, Which Is Responsible for the Stable Employment of Some 80,000 People throughout Europe
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