Peter Englander vividly recalls the words of Sloan finance Professor Robert Merton: “In financial markets, there's no such thing as a free lunch.” It's only in accepting risk, in other words, that opportunities for great return open up.
It was an apt lesson for someone who would go on to become a Director of Apax Partners & Co. Ventures Ltd., a London-based venture-capital company, which has just raised a latest Fund of €4.4 billion for investment in Europe.
Englander takes responsibility for information technology and Internet-related investments. He also sits on the investment committee and chairs the UK exit committee to oversee realization of the firm's UK investments.
Englander is understated when asked about Apax involvement in one of the largest buy-outs ever effected in Europe: the purchase of Yell, the UK Yellow Pages, from British Telecom. He calls the purchase “a very interesting investment.” And, explaining that the size of the acquisition led the firm's investment committee to take an especially active role, he comments simply that the firm's process yielded “a successful conclusion.”
Englander estimates he has read 4000 to 5000 business plans since he joined the firm at its startup in 1981. Today he spends less time evaluating them himself and more time passing his expertise on to others.
He continues to sit on the boards of several companies and to invest because “I wouldn't like to be out of it entirely.” But he finds mentoring just as rewarding, though he does acknowledge it is hard work. “We're all about the quality of human capital, so keeping standards up is part of the challenge.”
There is also the challenge of dealing with the current slowdown in the technology marketplace. Apax wisely limited its exposure in the dot-com arena, but even so, Englander sighs, “It's no fun working with good people who work hard, and then, because the market falls away, cannot raise the amount of financing they need.”
Nonetheless, he acknowledges the firm has been fortunate, citing its leadership position in Europe. And he allows it has been exciting to have contributed to its success from the start.
Looking back, Englander views his career as a chain of events set in motion when he was awarded a Kennedy Scholarship to Sloan. From there, he notes, it was simply a matter of “being in the right place at the right time.”
After Sloan and a stint at the Boston Consulting Group, he earned his PhD at the London Business School. In the process he met Apax founder and Chairman Sir Ronald Cohen, and became the first Apax employee, a consultant in corporate finance. His adventures in venture capital began when Sir Ronald raised his first fund and invited him to work on it.
Englander credits his Sloan education for giving him the analytical framework on which to build his knowledge of financial decision-making. And he says it was at Sloan that he began to gain confidence.
So it's only natural that he would want to give something back. And only natural that the gift would take the form of full tuition scholarships: one a year for the next four years. His goal is to bring to Sloan bright students from the U.K. who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford the opportunity.
Whether he realizes it indirectly, through scholarships, or directly, to members of his firm, Englander clearly sees knowledge transfer as one of his most important contributions. And of all the lessons he tries to pass on, one stands out: “Achieve a reasonable balance. See the positives for what they are, and recognize the risks. In other words,” he laughs, “there's no such thing as a free lunch.”
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