Will Europe’s Smaller Companies Deliver Big Returns

European equities have been largely unloved by investors for some time, having lagged their global peers over the past decade: the MSCI Europe ex UK Index has grown by circa 6% pa whilst the MSCI World Index is up circa 11% pa. European smaller companies have fared markedly better than their large cap counterparts however, outperforming the world in 2017 and growing at an annualized rate of over 10% during the last 10 years, as measured by the MSCI Europe ex UK Small Cap Index.1

Indeed, over the long term, European Smaller Companies has been one of the strongest performing sectors across the globe, as can be seen from the chart below2:

Whilst the closing months of 2019 were marked by increasing volatility driven by a slowdown in global growth, Sino-American trade wars and Brexit. All this paled into insignificance in the first quarter of 2020 when cases of COVID-19 infections were confirmed outside of China, shutting down the global economy as the virus swept from China, through Europe and on to the US.

In early March 2020, global stocks saw a downturn of at least 25%, and 30% in most G20 nations, as the pandemic inflicted rising human costs worldwide and the necessary monetary and fiscal protection measures severely impacted economic activity. Global and Euro-area growth are projected at -4.4% and -8.3% respectively in 20203, signalling the worst recession since the Great Depression. The initially savage drops in stock markets were promptly followed by a dramatic bounce from mid-March onwards, Europe included, and by the end of October 2020, a sterling investor had seen a 12-month gain on an investment in European smaller companies of circa 10%, aided by a weak pound.4

Euro small cap – the drivers of positivity

The region’s smaller companies continue to be one of the more attractive investment sectors within world markets, for a host of reasons:

  • it represents a unique blend of industries and companies which are less prominent in other regions
  • European smaller companies have traded at a discount to their peers elsewhere over recent years, and so companies which would potentially command premium ratings in, say, the US are considerably more attractively priced in Europe
  • it is an imperfect market which is ideally suited to active management, especially given the relative paucity of research available on its constituent companies: there are circa 2,500 quoted European stocks with a market capitalization of between £100m and £5bn, compared to circa 400 with a market cap of over £5bn
  • it offers exposure to high growth niches such as fintech, computer gaming, e-commerce and green energy (the EU is leading the world with its green agenda)
  • the policy environment is as constructive for equities as it has been for some time – the considerable support injected into European economies by governments and central bankers – furlough schemes, guaranteed loans, interest rate suppression and the like – have had a positive overall effect and appear to have staved off the worst (although, for companies without a viable long-term business model, this support merely delays the inevitable)
  • historically, European smaller company outperformance has been highly correlated to positive Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data – given this correlation, there is an expectation that the European small cap sector, and indeed value, will outperform as the economy strengthens and PMI data improves further
  • Europe as a region is highly geared to global trade and so should be amongst the first regions to benefit from a post-COVID recovery
  • at circa 1.5x, the price to book ratio (a key indicator of value) of European small cap stocks is currently some 15% below its historic average of circa 1.8x
  • 2021 forecast earnings per share growth for European small cap stocks is amongst the highest of any region (see table below).5

TR European Growth in 2020

Despite the unprecedented market turbulence, TR European Growth Trust (TRG) – managed by Ollie Beckett since 2011 – has performed impressively, achieving total return out-performance of 9% in its net asset value (NAV) relative to the benchmark over the last 12 months.6 Ollie attributes this achievement to a number of factors:

 

  • an undiluted focus on the fundamental worth of a business, at a time when favoring short-term momentum would have proved very costly
  • the diversity in portfolio holdings, with a mix of early-stage growth businesses, sensibly priced structural growth stocks, mis-priced value names and self-help turnaround stories: the trust currently holds circa 130 stocks
  • good stock selection, primarily managing to buy online business models that have benefited from a COVID-19 tailwind at a reasonable price
  • a willingness to go down the market cap scale – early entry into these growth stocks has enabled acquisitions at low valuations
  • it is not a value portfolio, valuation having been out of vogue as a stock market discipline for the last decade; despite that, the trust remains acutely valuation aware – maintaining valuation discipline throughout the market dislocation, it has taken the opportunity to buy some great businesses at good prices and some good businesses at great prices.

At a geographical level, the trust remains overweight in Germany (21.6%) and the Netherlands (8.0%), and has built a reasonably large overweight position in France (13.6%). It remains underweight in Spain and Austria, where it has proved difficult to find attractively valued opportunities for a few years. At a sector level, the trust remains overweight in technology, consumer discretionary and industrials.

The key driver of outperformance, however, has been the trust’s unalloyed commitment to bottom-up stock-picking: whilst risky concentrations are always avoided, index weightings play little to no part in asset allocation and Ollie is comfortable running the portfolio with substantial divergence from the benchmark.

TRG has consistently generated its own investment ideas rather than relying on external analysts, which is fortunate given the declining availability and quality of external analysis exacerbated by MiFID II. To that end, the TRG portfolio management team – Ollie, Rory Stokes and Julia Scheufler – spends hundreds of hours meeting and analysing medium and small-sized companies across western Europe – circa 600 meetings in the course of a typical year. It’s their belief that only through this level of immersive interaction and investigative rigour can the potential for significant outperformance be realised.

Depending on dividends

Despite not targeting income, one of the attractive aspects of the trust relative to its peers is its dividend payment solidity: over the last five years, average annual dividend growth of 25.7% is the highest in its sector.7 A final dividend of 14.20p to shareholders was agreed at the 2020 annual general meeting and, together with the interim dividend of 7.80p, brings the total dividend for the year to 22.00p, in line with last year – no small feat given Q2’s widespread corporate dividend-cutting and suspensions.

Since the end of October, the trust’s outperformance has accelerated post the positive news regarding the Pfizer vaccine, coupled with renewed investor attention on value. Looking beyond COVID-19, some voices are contending that we will see new lows in the market; Ollie doesn’t agree, being of the view that, whilst the market may again show some volatility later in the year as we emerge from the virus lockdown, confidence in an economic recovery is tested, and – as we’ve said – sentiment will undoubtedly be bolstered by the rollout of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

European smaller companies continue to be an attractive area. As already stated, it’s an imperfect market and the TRG team is confident that the hard work it puts into understanding the companies in its universe will enable it to continue to take advantage of further opportunities and mispricing, thereby identifying ongoing sound prospects for the deployment of shareholder capital.

1EUR, 10 years to 30.11.20

2Source: Janus Henderson, DataStream, in GBP, as at 31.10.20. Indices used: Euromoney Smaller European Companies ex UK, FTSE 100, FTSE 250, S&P 500, MSCI Emerging Markets, Datastream UK 10-Year Gilt, MSCI Europe ex UK

3Source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook, October 2020

4Source: MSCI Europe ex UK Small Cap Index, year to 31.10.20

5Source: TR European Growth Trust PLC, Annual Report 2020

6Source: Morningstar, relative to EMIX Smaller European Companies ex UK Index, as at 31.10.20

7Source: Association of Investment Companies/Morningstar, as at 18.11.20

8Source: Morningstar, as at 31.10.20.

Glossary

Volatility – The rate and extent at which the price of a portfolio, security or index, moves up and down. If the price swings up and down with large movements, it has high volatility. If the price moves more slowly and to a lesser extent, it has lower volatility. It is used as a measure of the riskiness of an investment

Market capitalization – The total market value of a company’s issued shares. It is calculated by multiplying the number of shares in issue by the current price of the shares. The figure is used to determine a company’s size, and is often abbreviated to ‘market cap’.

Price-to-book (P/B) ratio – A financial ratio that is calculated by dividing a company’s market value (share price) by the book value of its equity (value of the company’s assets on its balance sheet). A P/B value <1 can indicate a potentially undervalued company or a declining business. The higher the P/B ratio, the higher the premium the market is willing to pay for the company above the book (balance sheet) value of its assets.

Gearing – A measure of a company’s leverage that shows how far its operations are funded by lenders versus shareholders. It is a measure of the debt level of a company. Within investment trusts it refers to how much money the trust borrows for investment purposes.

Monetary (protection) policy – The policies of a central bank, aimed at influencing the level of inflation and growth in an economy. It includes controlling interest rates and the supply of money. Monetary stimulus refers to a central bank increasing the supply of money and lowering borrowing costs. Monetary tightening refers to central bank activity aimed at curbing inflation and slowing down growth in the economy by raising interest rates and reducing the supply of money. See also fiscal policy.

Fiscal (protection) policy – Government policy relating to setting tax rates and spending levels. It is separate from monetary policy, which is typically set by a central bank. Fiscal austerity refers to raising taxes and/or cutting spending in an attempt to reduce government debt. Fiscal expansion (or ‘stimulus’) refers to an increase in government spending and/or a reduction in taxes.

References made to individual securities should not constitute or form part of any offer or solicitation to issue, sell, subscribe or purchase the security. Janus Henderson Investors, one of its affiliated advisor, or its employees, may have a position mentioned in the securities mentioned in the report.

For promotional purposes. Not for onward distribution.

Before investing in an investment trust referred to in this document, you should satisfy yourself as to its suitability and the risks involved, you may wish to consult a financial adviser. [Past performance is not a guide to future performance]. The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the amount originally invested.

[Tax assumptions and reliefs depend upon an investor’s particular circumstances and may change if those circumstances or the law change]. Nothing in this document is intended to or should be construed as advice.  This document is not a recommendation to sell or purchase any investment. It does not form part of any contract for the sale or purchase of any investment. [We may record telephone calls for our mutual protection, to improve customer service and for regulatory record keeping purposes.]

Issued in the UK by Janus Henderson Investors. Janus Henderson Investors is the name under which investment products and services are provided by Janus Capital International Limited (reg no. 3594615), Henderson Global Investors  Limited (reg. no. 906355), Henderson Investment Funds Limited (reg. no. 2678531), Henderson Equity Partners Limited (reg. no.2606646), (each registered in England and  Wales at 201 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3AE and regulated by the Financial  Conduct Authority) and Henderson Management S.A. (reg no. B22848 at 2 Rue de Bitbourg, L-1273, Luxembourg and regulated by the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier).

[Janus Henderson, Janus, Henderson, Perkins, Intech, VelocityShares, Knowledge. Shared and Knowledge Labs] are trademarks of Janus Henderson Group plc or one of its subsidiaries. © Janus Henderson Group plc.

Source: Will Europe’s smaller companies deliver big returns? – CityAM : CityAM

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How Your Definition Of Entrepreneur Can Limit Your Success

The word entrepreneur is used so often in so many different contexts these days that pinning it down is virtually impossible.  Everyone has their own definition, and the one you adopt—or unconsciously accept—can determine your aspirations, dictate your behavior, and in some instances cause you to underperform or fail outright. It’s a classic self-fulfilling prophecy—you’re likely to get what you expect to get.

Among the many definitions of entrepreneur, six currently dominate the popular press, the how-to literature and business education—and loom large in the popular imagination. Each definition, in its own way, can be both empowering and pernicious. Here’s what to look out for:

The Noble Founder.  This would appear to be the simplest definition of all: if you start a business, you’re an entrepreneur, regardless of whether it succeeds. Today, there are over 16 million people attempting to start over nine million businesses in the U.S. But even this apparently simple definition brings with it some significant psychological baggage.  People who associate themselves with this definition often feel a deep sense of pride in their willingness to even try to start a business.  But that understandable pride in taking on the struggle can also mean a too easy acceptance of poor results. Inside the noble founder lurks the noble failure.

The Self-Made Success. Some definitions bestow the title of entrepreneur only upon people who have started a successful business, or at least one from which they earn a decent living. People who see themselves this way can feel a bit proprietary about the definition. To them, everyone who is struggling to make a living is merely an “aspiring” entrepreneur.

Only 30 to 40 percent of startups ever achieve profitability. In the world of Silicon Valley high-risk startups, the chances of reaching profitability plummet to less than one in a hundred. The self-identity of people who feel success is an essential part of what it means to be an entrepreneur are proud of the self-sufficiency they achieve or at least seek. They are more likely than noble founders to keep their eye on the bottom line, but they also can be overly fearful of risk and can underperform in terms of innovation.

The Entrepreneur by Temperament.  In this view, entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It can apply equally to people starting a business or people working in corporate settings. It’s all about mindset: such people “make things happen,” “push the envelope,” or refuse to stop until they get what they want. It is the broadest of definitions. In fact, Ludwig Von Mises, a member of the Austrian school of economics, theorized that since we all subconsciously assess the risks of our actions relative to the rewards we expect to receive, we are all entrepreneurs. Because this definition applies to everyone, anyone can delude themselves into believing they are an entrepreneur. You don’t even have to start a business. You just have to behave a certain way, let the chips fall where they may.

The Opportunist Par Excellence. For at least a century, entrepreneurs have described themselves as having the ability (a skill, not a state of mind) to “smell the money.” There are indeed many entrepreneurs who proudly identify their ability to spot money-making opportunities. But it wasn’t until the economist Israel Kirzner, in the mid-1970s, described the core of entrepreneurship as opportunity identification that academics began to study it as a process and a skill. Entrepreneurial education today is often targeted at teaching opportunity identification skills.

What is interesting is that there is no strong evidence, after several different studies, that entrepreneurial education actually results in students or attendees having a significantly higher chance of reaching profitability. Perhaps opportunity-spotters can overextend themselves by doing multiple startups or product launches simultaneously, a problem that can be compounded by a lack of synergy among these disparate efforts.

The Risk-taker: Frank Knight, one of the founders of the highly influential Chicago school of economics, drew an illuminating distinction between risk and uncertainty. With risk you can predict the probability of various unknown outcomes of business decisions. With uncertainty you not only don’t know the outcomes but also you don’t know the probability of any particular outcome occurring. In other words, risk can be managed, but uncertainty is uncontrollable. Knight argued that opportunities for profit come only from situations of uncertainty.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must therefore seek out uncertainty. Today, few entrepreneurs know of Knight’s thesis, but many nonetheless proudly describe themselves as “risk-takers.” This identity can lead to taking on more risk than necessary, especially when you see all risk as good and see yourself as an adventurer into the unknown. You would be better advised to think of your adventures as a series of small calculated experiments that turn the greatest uncertainties into knowable risks.

The Innovator: Joseph Schumpeter’s description of entrepreneurs as innovators who participate in the creative destruction that constantly destroys old economic arrangements and replaces them with new ones has appealed to many observers, including economists. That concept is often naively married to Clay Christensen’s notion of disruptive innovation of industries and markets.

See, for example, Zero to One by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel. This fetishizing of disruption has led many entrepreneurs to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever they want to do, no matter the effects it might have on society like creating a “gig economy” of low-paid workers. Seeing yourself as an innovator and regarding innovation as an unquestioned good is arguably one of the most dangerous definitions of all because it simultaneously encourages great boldness and justifies equally great moral blindness. It also results in passing over opportunities to create valuable and socially beneficial businesses that were less than truly disruptive.

All of these definitions of entrepreneur are self-limiting. How you define yourself as an entrepreneur also defines what actions you’ll take to view yourself as deserving of the title. But the only two things academics have ever been able to show conclusively correlate to entrepreneurial success (measured generally) are years of schooling and implicit, core motivations that align with feeling good about getting things done (known as “need for accomplishment”). Pinning your identity to any of the current definitions of entrepreneur will only set you back.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am a successful entrepreneur who researches and teaches entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, at Princeton University. My two bestselling books on entrepreneurship, “Building on Bedrock: What Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Other Great Self-Made Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us About Building Valuable Companies” (2018) and “Startup Leadership” (2014) focus on what it really takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and the leadership skills required to grow a company. Prior to joining the Princeton faculty, I was founder and CEO of iSuppli, which sold to IHS in 2010 for more than $100 million. Previously, I was CEO of global semiconductor company International Rectifier. I have developed patents and value chain applications that have improved companies as diverse as Sony, Samsung, Philips, Goldman Sachs and IBM, and my perspective is frequently sought by the media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nikkei, Reuters and Taipei Times.

Source: How Your Definition Of Entrepreneur Can Limit Your Success

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When we help youth to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, we empower them to be successful in our rapidly changing world. Whether they own a business or work for someone else, young adults need the skills and confidence to identify opportunities, solve problems and sell their ideas. This skillset can be encouraged and developed in elementary schools, with the immediate benefit of increased success in school. In this talk, Bill Roche shares stories of students that have created their own real business ventures with PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs. He illustrates the power of enabling students to take charge of their learning with freedom to make mistakes, and challenging them to actively develop entrepreneurial skills. Bill also showcases the achievements of specific students and shares how a transformative experience for one student has been a source of inspiration for him over the years. Bill Roche specializes in designing curriculum-based resource packages related to entrepreneurship, financial literacy and social responsibility. Bill worked directly in Langley classrooms for over ten years and now supports teachers throughout the country in creating real-world learning experiences for their students. Over 40,000 students have participated in his PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs program. The program’s impact has been captured in a documentary scheduled for release early in 2018. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx

Meet Wall Street’s Best Dealmaker: New Billionaire Orlando Bravo

Orlando Bravo discovered his edge early. In 1985, at age 15, he traveled from his home in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, a small town on the island’s western coast, to Bradenton, Florida, to enroll in the legendary tennis guru Nick Bollettieri’s grueling academy.

Bravo would wake at dawn, head to class at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, then return to Bollettieri’s tennis courts at noon. He spent hours warring against peers like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier under the broiling sun. At sundown, after an hour to shower and eat, he would study, then retire to a sweaty, two-bedroom condominium in which players bunked four to a room like army barracks. Then he would do it all over again, six days a week, for a full year. “It was the tennis version of Lord of the Flies,” says his former roommate Courier.

The brutally competitive environment helped Bravo climb to a top-40 ranking in the U.S. as a junior. Then he peaked. “It was quite humbling,” recalls Bravo, who’s still fit from his weekly tennis games. “It was a different level of hard work altogether. It became clear I could operate at these super-high levels of pain.”

That grit and perseverance eventually propelled him to the top echelons of the private equity world. Few outside of finance have heard of the 49-year-old Bravo, but he is the driving force behind Wall Street’s hottest firm, the $39 billion (assets) Thoma Bravo.

In February, the French business school HEC Paris, in conjunction with Dow Jones, named Thoma Bravo the best-performing buyout investor in the world after studying 898 funds raised between 2005 and 2014. According to public data analyzed by Forbes, its funds returned 30% net annually, far better than famous buyout firms like KKR, Blackstone and Apollo Global Management. That’s even better than the returns from the software buyout firm Vista Equity Partners, its closest rival, run by Robert F. Smith, the African American billionaire who recently made headlines by paying off the college debt of Morehouse College’s entire graduating class. Since the beginning of 2015, Bravo has sold or listed 25 investments worth a total of $20 billion, four times their cost. His secret? He invests only in well-established software companies, especially those with clearly discernible moats.

“The economics of software were just so powerful. It was like no other industry I had ever researched,” says Bravo, seated in his office in San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid. He wears a tailored purple dress shirt and enunciates his words with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “It was just very obvious.”

Bravo’s firm has done 230 software deals worth over $68 billion since 2003 and presently oversees a portfolio of 38 software companies that generate some $12 billion in annual revenue and employ 40,000 people. Forbes estimates the value of the firm, which is owned entirely by Bravo and a handful of his partners, at $7 billion. Based on his stake in the firm and his cash in its funds, Bravo has a $3 billion fortune. Not only does that make him the first Puerto Rican-born billionaire, it’s enough for Bravo to debut at 287th place on this year’s Forbes 400 ranking of the richest Americans.

Like a good tennis player who’s worked relentlessly on his ground strokes, Bravo has made private equity investing look simple. There are no complicated tricks. He figured out nearly two decades ago that software and private equity were an incredible combination. Since then, Bravo has never invested elsewhere, instead honing his strategy and technique deal after deal. He hunts for companies with novel software products, like Veracode, a Burlington, Massachusetts-based maker of security features for coders, or Pleasanton, California-based Ellie Mae, the default system among online mortgage lenders, which the firm picked up for $3.7 billion in April. His investments typically have at least $150 million in sales from repeat customers and are in markets that are too specialized to draw the interest of giants like Microsoft and Google. Bravo looks to triple their size with better operations, and by the time he strikes, he’s already mapped out an acquisition or turnaround strategy.

The pool of potential deals is growing. On public markets, there are now more than 75 subscription software companies, worth nearly $1 trillion, that Bravo can target, versus fewer than 20, worth less than $100 billion, a decade ago. Investors around the world clamor to get into his firm’s funds, and lenders have checkbooks ready to finance his next big deal. “The opportunities today are the biggest I’ve ever seen,” Bravo says. “Right now we are in a huge, exploding and changing industry.”

Orlando Bravo’s isn’t a rags-to-riches story. He was born into a privileged life in Puerto Rico in the Spanish colonial city of Mayagüez, which for decades was the port for tuna fishing vessels supplying the local Starkist, Neptune and Bumble Bee canneries.

Starting in 1945, his grandfather Orlando Bravo, and later his father, Orlando Bravo Sr., ran Bravo Shipping, which acted as an agent for the massive tuna-fishing factory ships entering the port in Mayagüez. It was a lucrative business. His parents moved him and his younger brother Alejandro to what’s now a gated community in the hills of Mayagüez, where the brothers attended private schools and tooled about on the family’s 16-foot motorboat.

After taking up tennis at age 8, practicing on the courts of a local university and a Hilton hotel, Bravo and his family began making the two-and-a-half-hour drive from their home to San Juan on weekends to allow him to train against better competition. “What I loved about tennis was the opportunity,” he recalls. “I’m from Mayagüez, and I’m going to come to the big city and I’m going to make it,” he says. “Let’s go! The underdog!”

He quickly became one of Puerto Rico’s top players, which landed him at Bollettieri’s academy and then on Brown University’s tennis team. “I was so scared I wouldn’t make it through,” Bravo says of the Ivy League, so he took most classes pass/fail as a college freshman. But he quickly found his footing and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1992 with degrees in economics and political science. That helped him get a prestigious job as an analyst in Morgan Stanley’s mergers and acquisitions department. There he paid his dues, clocking 100-hour weeks under the renowned dealmaker Joseph Perella.

“I learned I didn’t want to invest in risky things ever again. It was too painful.”

Bravo’s Spanish fluency put him in front of clients as other analysts slaved away in data rooms. Working on Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros’ 1993 acquisition of Puerto Rican supermarket chain Pueblo Xtra International opened his eyes to the world of buyouts. But mostly he says he learned he didn’t want to be a banker.

Bravo eventually headed west to Stanford University. He’d already been accepted into its law school, but he also wanted to attend the business school. He called insistently and eventually got accepted to pursue both. He worked during a summer at Seaver Kent, a Menlo Park, California-based joint venture with David Bonderman’s Texas Pacific Group that specialized in middle market deals. Upon graduation in 1998, Bravo wasn’t offered a position there or at TPG, and he spent months cold-calling for a job. After about a hundred calls, Bravo’s résumé caught the eye of Carl Thoma, a founding partner of the Chicago-based private equity firm Golder, Thoma, Cressey, Rauner (now known as GTCR), and they hit it off. “The biggest mistake Texas Pacific made was…that they didn’t make him a job offer,” says Thoma, 71, who Forbes estimates is also a billionaire based on an analysis of public filings.

One of the pioneers of the private equity industry in the 1970s, Thoma is a tall and mild-mannered Oklahoman whose parents were ranchers. Thoma and his partners practiced a friendlier version of the buyouts popularized by Michael Milken, preferring to buy small businesses and expand them using acquisitions. When Bravo came aboard in 1998, Thoma and partner Bryan Cressey had just split from Stanley Golder and Bruce Rauner, who later went on to become governor of Illinois, creating Thoma Cressey. Thoma sent Bravo to San Francisco to hunt for investments and eventually expand the firm’s Bay Area presence.

Bravo’s first few deals, struck before he turned 30, were disasters. He backed two website design startups, NerveWire and Eclipse Networks, just as the dot-com bubble popped. The two lost most of the $100 million Bravo invested. “I learned I didn’t want to invest in risky things ever again,” Bravo says. “It was too painful to live through.” Thoma Cressey was also struggling elsewhere, with underperforming investments in oil and gas and telecommunications. It was among the worst performers in the private equity industry at the time.

“Every time we picked up our heads to peek at a deal that wasn’t software, the software deal looked a lot better to us.”

But the failure led to an epiphany that soon made Bravo and his partners billions. He realized his mistake was in backing startup entrepreneurs, an inherently risky move, when for the same money he could buy established companies selling niche software to loyal customers. With Thoma’s blessing, Bravo pivoted and became an expert on these arcane firms. Coming out of the dot-com bust, the market was littered with foundering companies that had gone public during the bubble and had few interested buyers. Bravo got to work. His first big move, in 2002, was to buy Prophet 21, a Yardley, Pennsylvania-based software provider to distributors in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors that was trading at a mere one times sales.

Rather than clean house, Bravo kept the company’s CEO, Chuck Boyle, and worked beside him to boost profits, mainly by rolling up competitors. When Boyle wanted to buy a company called Faspac, Bravo flew to San Diego to work out of the Faspac owner’s garage for five days, analyzing reams of contracts to see if the deal would work. “Orlando would help not only at the highest level with strategy but also when we got grunt work done,” Boyle recalls. After seven acquisitions, Bravo sold the business for $215 million, making five times his money.

Software quickly became Bravo’s sole focus, and Thoma Cressey began to thrive. By 2005, Bravo and Thoma had recruited three employees, Scott Crabill, Holden Spaht and Seth Boro, to focus on software applications, cybersecurity and Web infrastructure. All remain with the firm today as managing partners.

Bravo’s big opportunity came during the financial crisis when Thoma put Bravo’s name on the door and split with his partner Bryan Cressey, a healthcare investor, creating Thoma Bravo. From that moment on, the firm invested only in software, with Bravo leading the way.

A string of billion-dollar buyouts followed—Sunnyvale, California-based network security firm Blue Coat, financial software outfit Digital Insight of Westlake Village, California, and Herndon, Virginia’s Deltek, which sells project management software—all of which more than doubled in value under Bravo’s watch. The firm’s inaugural 2009 software-only fund posted a 44% net annualized return by the time its investments were sold, making investors four times their money and proving the wisdom of discipline and specialization. “Every time we picked up our heads to peek at a deal that wasn’t software, the software deal looked a lot better to us,” he brags.

It’s late May, and Orlando Bravo’s 20th-floor offices overlooking the San Francisco Bay are filled with dozens of tech executives from its portfolio companies. Folks from Houston’s Quorum Software, which makes technology systems for oil and gas companies, mingle with cybersecurity experts from Redwood Shores, California’s Imperva. They juggle their rollerboard suitcases and thick financial books as Thoma Bravo partners map out corporate strategies on dry-erase whiteboards. Those on break hammer away at keyboards in small workrooms or demolish chicken sandwiches in a no-frills kitchenette.

This is one of Thoma Bravo’s monthly boot camps for new acquisitions, grueling daylong sessions that are critical to its success. Partners regularly buzz into Bravo’s spartan glass-walled offices, while in the background the drilling and hammering of construction workers making room for 13 new associates disturbs the peace.

With a fresh $12.6 billion war chest, Bravo is now eyeing $10 billion-plus deals and expects to begin buying entire divisions of tech giants.

After two decades studying software, Bravo recognizes clear patterns. For instance, when a company pioneers a product, its sales explode and then inevitably slow as competitors emerge. Often a CEO will use this cue to stray into new markets or overspend to gin up sales. Bravo calls this “chasing too many rabbits.” To fix it, he and his ten partners work alongside 22 current and former software executives who serve as consultants. They begin tracking the profit-and-loss statements for each product line and pore over contracts in search of bad deals or underpriced products. Critically, by the time a Thoma Bravo acquisition check clears, existing management has agreed that this rigorous approach will help. Bravo calls it “making peace with the past.”

There are also layoffs. Those can total as much as 10% of the workforce, for which Bravo doesn’t apologize. “In order to realign the business and set it up for big-time growth, you first need to take a step back before you take a step forward. It’s like boxing,” he says. “These are unbelievable assets with great innovators, and they are usually undermanaged.”

Mark Bishof, the former CEO of Flexera Software, an application management company outside of Chicago that Bravo bought in 2008 for $200 million and sold for a nearly $1 billion profit three years later, has a succinct description for this wild success. “He just kind of cuts all of the bullsh*t,” Bishof says. “It’s refreshing.” Flexera’s profits rose 70% during Bravo’s ownership, largely thanks to four major acquisitions. “Orlando’s like the general in the foxhole with his sergeant. You know he’s knee-deep in there with you,” Bishof gushes.

Under Thoma Bravo’s watch, companies on average saw cash flow surge as margins hit 35%, as of 2018, nearly triple those of the average public software company at that time. “It’s like training for the Olympics. . . . You have a finite goal to make it [in year four], and you make it very, very clear,” Bravo says. Today’s roaring market adds potency to the playbook. Lenders are now gorging on software debt, and stock market multiples for these businesses are surging.

“I learned more about building an efficient software company over the last four and a half years than in the first 30 years of my career.”

A recent example is Detroit’s Compuware, a decades-old pioneer of software applications to manage mainframe computer systems. In 2013, this Nasdaq-listed giant was all but left for dead and up for sale. There was minimal interest, other than from Bravo and partner Seth Boro, who were keen on Dynatrace, software that helped companies move databases to the cloud, which Compuware had acquired in 2011. Thoma Bravo used $675 million in cash and raised $1.8 billion in debt to buy Compuware and then split off Dynatrace as a separate company. The pair began to move Dynatrace from selling database licenses, once the bulk of its business, to cloud subscription services, now 70% of sales. This past August, Dynatrace went public, and Thoma Bravo’s 70% stake is now worth over $4 billion, with the remainder of Compuware worth nearly a billion more. “I learned more about building an efficient software company over the last four and a half years than in the first 30 years of my career,” says Dynatrace CEO John Van Siclen.

With a fresh $12.6 billion war chest for its 13th fund raised in 2018, Bravo is eyeing $10 billion-plus deals and expects to begin buying entire divisions from today’s technology giants. But thanks in part to the success of his firm, he now faces more competition. Heavyweights like Blackstone and KKR are increasingly sussing out software deals, not to mention his longtime rival Vista Equity. And he’s not immune to mistakes. Bravo’s $3.6 billion 2015 acquisition of San Francisco-based digital network tracker Riverbed Technology is currently struggling because of slowing sales and too much debt. He isn’t worried. “There are bigger and better companies to fix than there were ten years ago,” Bravo says.

His biggest challenge these days is likely back home in Puerto Rico where it all began. Bravo announced in May that he is contributing $100 million to his Bravo Family Foundation that will be used to promote entrepreneurship and economic development on the island.

This new foundation was birthed by Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island two years ago. Bravo was in Japan raising cash for yet another massive fund and frantically calling San Juan trying to locate his parents, who were living in the capital. They were fine, but the island wasn’t.

Five days later, he flew his Gulfstream jet with 1,000 pounds of supplies—water, granola bars, meal kits, satellite telephones, diapers, intravenous tubes and hydration pills—to Aguadilla, near Mayagüez. When an airport worker opened the door of his plane, Bravo says, the look of fear on his face was unforgettable. “All you could say was ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you.’ ”

He returned two weeks later in a larger plane with 7,000 pounds of supplies. Then he came in a massive DC-10 cargo plane before ultimately chartering two container ships carrying 600,000 pounds. “It was just like cold-calling for deals,” Bravo says of rounding up all the donations. He personally put in $3 million in just the first 30 days, and committed $10 million altogether.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency became fully operative there, the island’s richest native turned his attention to Puerto Rico’s future. Though 44% of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, Bravo believes in the potential to foster entrepreneurship, citing that a tenth of the population has tried to build a business.

Armed with his money, his foundation is looking to back Puerto Rican technology entrepreneurs, even ferrying them to Thoma Bravo’s offices for training. Bravo admits to being tired of the debate over Puerto Rico’s statehood and holds his tongue when asked about President Trump’s performance during Maria. “My passion, which is the same as with companies, is to move beyond the strategic, long-term pontification, and into the operational and tactical moves that make you move forward today,” he says. “Economies go down, companies miss their numbers, trade stops, product issues happen and people quit. [The question is] do you have a creative approach to problem solving?” Bravo says. “Some people are stuck . . . and some people love putting the pieces together. I just feel like every operational problem can be solved. There’s always a solution.”

Recommended: Read Forbes’ Other Dealmaking Cover Stories

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I’m a staff writer at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, M&A and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a part of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to agara@forbes.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara

Source: Meet Wall Street’s Best Dealmaker: New Billionaire Orlando Bravo

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Orlando Bravo, managing partner of Thoma Bravo and founder of the Bravo Family Foundation, https://www.bravofamilyfoundation.org/, announced he personally will contribute $100 million to his foundation to promote entrepreneurship and economic development in Puerto Rico, where Bravo was raised, and his family still lives.

OxyContin’s Sackler Family Will Get Millions From A Ski Resort Operator’s Sale

Vail Resorts, a publicly traded operator of ski resorts, announced on Monday it would acquire Peak Resorts for $11 per share, all cash, which is more than double its $5.10 per share closing price, one day prior to the announcement. Peak Resorts operates 17 ski resorts, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, including Alpine Valley in Ohio and Hunter Mountain in upstate New York.

One major beneficiary of the acquisition: the Sacklers, the family behind Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of pain drug OxyContin. According to Peak Resorts’ latest annual proxy from October 2018, its largest shareholder is CAP 1 LLC, a company wholly owned by Sackler brothers Richard and Jonathan.

The Sacklers’ nearly 40% ownership stake, which includes preferred stock and stock warrants, is worth about  $87 million based on the transaction. Some of the shares are owned by the charitable Sackler Foundation. The Sacklers became investors in Peak Resorts as early as August 2015.

Richard is the former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma. His brother, Jonathan, is a former board member. Nearly every state has filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and its owners, including eight Sackler family members, alleging the company caused a nationwide public health crisis around opioid addiction and opioid overdose deaths. One lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharma had brought in more than $35 billion in revenues since 1995.

The Sacklers, worth an estimated $13 billion based largely on the value of Purdue Pharma, built their fortune primarily through sales of OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller that has been called by the medical establishment one of the root causes for the nationwide opioid addiction epidemic.

Purdue Pharma owns the patent for OxyContin, and is the only manufacturer of the drug. According to Symphony Health Solutions, a healthcare and pharmaceutical data analytics company, roughly 80% of Purdue Pharma’s sales come from OxyContin. Due to the widespread rise in use of prescription and nonprescription opioids, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2017.

The family used to be known for being generous benefactors of museums and universities worldwide, but their moniker has lost its luster. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City announced in May it would turn down money from the Sackler family, though it will still carry the family name in the Sackler Wing. In July, the Louvre Museum in Paris reportedly removed the Sackler name from its Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities.

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Angel Au-Yeung has been a reporter on staff at Forbes Magazine since 2017. She covers the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs and tracks how they use their money and power.

Source: OxyContin’s Sackler Family Will Get Millions From A Ski Resort Operator’s Sale

Midas List Europe: Meet The Best VC Investors In European Tech For 2018 – Alex Konrad

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With Europe’s tech scene on the rise, a select group of venture capital investors are proving that you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley to build a golden startup portfolio. The 25 investors of the second-ever Midas Europe List have produced returns that stand up worldwide. They’ve backed public-company success stories like payments company Adyen and music streaming site Spotify. They’re based everywhere from London to Switzerland and Israel, from large firms and smaller new ones. The one things they have in common: track records of success in backing the next big thing in Europe – and doing it again and again……..

Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2018/11/05/midas-list-europe-top-vcs-2018/#321db2c94ad0

 

 

 

 

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