A fantastic ambassador for Enact and Endless, Paul has a large network and an ever increasing following. He was crowned the Emerging Dealmaker of the Year at the 2021 Insider Dealmakers Awards – an illustrious honour and a well and truly deserved accolade.
We have worked with Paul in some of the Enact portfolio, at the Endless / Enact Connections Dinners and we were delighted when he agreed to share his perspectives with our CFO Network.
Not many people will know you started your career as a professional football player for Bradford City. Tell us about your time there and what ultimately led you to a career in finance.
I joined Bradford City as an Apprentice Professional Footballer in 2003. I had some great experiences, playing and scoring in the FA Youth Cup, playing at stadiums for the reserve team and representing England U18’s in 2005. I met and played with some great people along the way.
I took the decision to continue my education completing A-Levels in my spare time which I think was a first at the club. David Weatherall was an inspiration at that time as captain of the club and someone who had gone to University before having a successful career in football. Given he was in the same position (on the field) as me, had continued his studies and then scored for Leeds United against Man United at Elland Road, he was definitely someone I looked up to!
In 2004 the club entered administration for the second time in 2 years and while I didn’t fully understand the implications at the time, I can remember the administrators trying to explain the situation and the uncertainty that surrounded the club, particularly for the non-playing staff. Interestingly years later when I joined Enact and Endless, they were talking about “bringing certainty” to situations which resonated with me following that experience.
In 2006 I was offered a professional contract but decided to go to University. After a great but slightly turbulent 3 years it felt like a sensible move and I thought I could get back into football at a later time but that didn’t materialise. I sometimes think what might have been and some of the lads I played with went on to have successful careers in the game. I’m a big believer everything happens for a reason! I met my wife at University. we have two children and I wouldn’t change that for anything (even a goal against Man United!)
Private equity is a career destination that will appeal to many but will not suit all. Please share your insights on what it is actually like working within a PE house? What are the main challenges and the rewards?
I think the first point I would make is that there are a wide range of PE houses with different approaches and strategies. At Enact, we are a special situations and transformational investor focussing on small and medium sized business (up to c£50m revenue). My investment rationale would be very different to a sector focussed PE investor or early-stage venture capital. This is clearly a very important point for a management team choosing a PE partner.
At Enact we are a hands-on investor supporting and working closely with management teams to overcome challenges and market opportunities. Sometimes a business can be at risk of failure which is a stressful time for all stakeholders and we throw ourselves into those difficult situations, so it’s not for everyone. Personally, while dealing with stressed or distressed businesses can be the biggest challenge it can also be the biggest reward, as coming out on the other side with a business that is stable and profitable is very rewarding.
How has the deal market been over the last 18 months and more recently as we have emerged from lockdown?
Generally speaking, there has been a lot of activity over the last 12 months. I think there are a combination of factors that have driven the market dynamics. If a business has demonstrated resilience through the pandemic then there is likely to be interest in a potential transaction. That, together with the potential for tax changes and level of funding available in Private Equity and Debt Fund markets, has contributed to increased activity levels. The market has also adapted, utilising technology which has proven to be robust and enabled deals to be completed despite the pandemic and lockdown period.
As a special situations investor this doesn’t directly correlate to increased investment opportunities for Enact, however the last 12 months have been one of the most active since the Enact Fund was established with 5 investments and 1 exit. This is because we support the acquisition of not only stressed/ distressed investments bvut also non-core divisions or carve outs from a group, succession planning or retirement sales, partial exits or bolt-on acquisitions to existing investments
As Emerging dealmaker of the Year , what has been the most interesting deal you have been involved in?
I was pleased to win the award which was really an acknowledgement of the good year the whole Enact team had as all the deals referenced were very much team efforts. We don’t really use the term “deals” internally as the transaction itself is one step in an investment and partnership with a business and management team which can last several years.
I think the partnership approach is evidenced in how we supported the management buyout of Realise Training, head quartered in Sheffield, in October 2020. The first step was a conversation with the Managing Director who had a vision for Realise Training to be a standalone business as at that time it was part of a much larger group. I worked with a fantastic management team to negotiate a carve out that was acceptable to all stakeholders as it was important from the sellers perspective that the business found a good home.
Over the course of a few months and a lot of hardwork the vision became a reality and I’m delighted to see the fantastic progress Realise has made over the last 12 months, rebranding, continuing to change learners lives through the courses it delivers and achieving the status of a “Great Place to work” - an amazing achievement!
Who has been the biggest influence in your career and what do you love about it?
When I left University I was recruited by Andy Wood at Grant Thornton. He had the biggest influence in my early career as a financial professional and was a role model for “doing the right thing”. It was no surprise to me that he went on to become a National Partner with a focus on Ethics at the firm.
More recently my career has been influenced by the people I work with at Enact and Endless. The founding partners Garry Wilson and Darren Forshaw and the story of how Endless started is inspiring, but on a day to day basis Wayne Bowser and Chris Cormack have had the biggest influence. Wayne grew up about 10 miles away from where I did and progressed to be a Senior Executive at HSBC. I continue to learn a lot from him, observing how he operates as Chairman of the Enact Advisory board. Chris recruited me into the Enact team and I have worked closely with him over the past 7 years as he has led the Enact Fund through its growth over that time investing in 12 businesses and raising a third fund in due course. He has had a hugely positive influence on my career as I have grown and developed as the fund has grown.
What does the future look like for Paul?
I think I am in a very privileged position to be part of the Enact team with committed funds available to support businesses and management teams. We try to make business better for everybody by swiftly bringing certainty and assurance to situations, helping businesses and individuals move forward. I certainly think there will be investment opportunities for Enact to support businesses in an uncertain economic environment. I am excited about the role I can play in developing Enact further and working with good management teams to develop businesses over the coming years.
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