Could You Live Without Private Equity? A Reporter’s Quest to Ditch PE-Backed Products Means Giving Up Movies, Social Media — Even, Sometimes, the Bathroom; PE firms spent $398 billion buying up a total of 2,176 U.K. companies from 2002 to 2012

Could You Live Without Private Equity?

A Reporter’s Quest to Ditch PE-Backed Products Means Giving Up Movies, Social Media — Even, Sometimes, the Bathroom


Nov. 15, 2013 1:01 p.m. ET

It can be hard enough finding a public toilet in London. Try finding one that doesn’t use bathroom fittings made by a private equity-backed company. That is just one of the challenges I faced after deciding to spend a week avoiding anything touched by this giant industry. I couldn’t go to the office. I had to give up FacebookFB +0.04% and Twitter. Even brushing my hair was a no-no.The project was sparked by the realization that nearly every lunch spot near my office in London was private equity-owned. At home, my favorite coat, mascara and much of the food in my kitchen was made or sold by private equity-backed companies, too.

Private-equity firms spent $398 billion buying up a total of 2,176 U.K. companies from 2002 to 2012, according to figures from data provider Dealogic. That world of leveraged buyouts, though, felt remote—until I tried to live outside it.

I had to work from home because the London offices of Dow Jones & Co. are in a development part;y owned by Blackstone Group BX -0.04% LP. I ended up having meetings in pubs, because most of the coffee shops in the area were also backed by private equity. I had to carry cash everywhere because most retailers in London use a company named WorldPay for credit-card payments. WorldPay is owned by Bain Capital LLC.

I didn’t have a hairbrush. It had been packed away because I had bought it at an outlet of Boots drugstore backed by Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts KKR -0.13% & Co. I didn’t turn on the television because of the risk of watching a program made by a buyout-backed production company such as Permira Advisers LLC-owned All3Media.

“Although it isn’t widely known what a big footprint private equity has…when you work within the industry and add it all up it’s amazing you can go anywhere to get respite from the sector,” said Tim Hames, director general of the industry’s British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.

I thought my private-equity-free week would get easier as I adjusted my life around the constraints. In fact, it got harder.

At the end of the first day I realized I’d have to end my love affair with social media. My friends thought I was ignoring them because I had deleted from my phone Facebook, which has backing from Index Ventures, and the messaging service WhatsApp, backed by Sequoia Capital. Twitter, too, still has a small venture backing—so it was deleted.

Lunch in the City of London on the second day was tricky. Private equity in the U.K. loves restaurants, investing in chains such as Pret A Manger, EAT, Pizza Express and Wagamama because they have a lot of potential for growth through nationwide expansion. I ended up eating lunch at a greasy-spoon cafe.

I had expected that by the middle of the week I would have figured out what to avoid. But the deeper I delved into my private-equity detox, the more futile it felt. My boyfriend got exasperated when date nights were complicated by the fact that the two largest U.K. cinema chains are both private equity-backed.

When out and about it was difficult to avoid bathroom suites made by Bain Capital-backed Armitage Shanks, EQT Partners-owned Sanitec and Grohe, which TPG and Credit Suisse Group AG’s private-equity arm are in the process of selling. Fortunately, the bathroom fittings in my home were from an independent company.

Even a trip to my local bar wasn’t carefree. I couldn’t drink my tipple of choice, a gin and tonic, because Schweppes tonic water is backed by Bain Capital.

At the end of the week I totted up my transgressions.

Arqiva, which makes the infrastructure that television channels, radio stations and mobile-phone operators use to transmit information in the U.K., has received investment fromMacquarie Group Ltd. MQG.AU +1.70% ‘s European Infrastructure Fund. Technically that meant I should have banned radio and my mobile phone, but to do my job, I had to cross that line.

I gave up avoiding Armitage Shanks toilets because they were everywhere and just too difficult to avoid. I also fished out my hairbrush from the box of private-equity contraband, as my appearance got more and more disheveled.

I’m sure there were other things I slipped up on, as sometimes it is impossible to know if private-equity or venture-capital firms have backed a product in some way. Some own-brand supermarket products can be traced back to buyout-backed companies. Buyout firms also invest in all sorts of companies making components for motors, wiring, pharmaceuticals and packaging, not to mention their involvement with health-insurance companies and pension providers.

I knew it would be a tough week, but I was surprised at just how hard it was. It felt like there was some link to private equity or venture capital in virtually every product, shop or tech app that I touched. Not being able to go in to the office, watch television or use social media and messaging services made me feel isolated from the outside world. And with nowhere to go out to in the evening besides the local pub, it became difficult to bother.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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