Private equity: have you missed the boat?

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One headhunter says PE funds are becomingly increasingly choosy about who they hire. Others say their appetite for staff remains 'insatiable'.

"There was a wave of private equity hiring at the associate and principal level last year, around the same time as a wave of fund raising," says Christopher Kirkness, a consultant specialising in private equity at headhunter Whitehead Mann. "There's still hiring now - but with more specific nuances. There's particular demand for people with experience of emerging markets like India and Eastern Europe, for example."

Kirkness also throws spanners in the works for more senior bankers hoping to make the transition to private equity. He says the emphasis is shifting away from finance backgrounds in favour of 'operations partners' from industry. Last October, for example, Candover hired its first two operations partners in the form of Alex Dolman, a former CFO of Swissport, and Alexis Dormandy, chief marketing officer of Orange.

"There's recognition that at the senior end you need a broader skill set than just investment banking," says Kirkness. "Purchase multiples are now very high and if you're buying a company on those kinds of multiples, you need an ambitious business plan that can generate the returns investors are looking for."

Ravenous recruiting

Not everyone shares Kirkness's downbeat assessment of the private equity hiring market, however.

Ben Aymé, a consultant at search firm Veni Group, says private equity is pursuing bankers as vigorously as before: "Funds are still hiring at all levels. Following the big fund-raising that's taken place of late, there's been particular demand for people at principal level and above."

Who's hiring juniors? Recruiters point to the likes of Hellman & Friedman, Apollo Management, Cinven, BC Partners, Englefield Capital and CCMP Capital Advisors.

"Anyone who says there's not much [hiring] going on at the moment is wrong," says Guy Townsend, joint managing director at specialist private equity search firm Walker Hamill. "Demand is insatiable, particularly for good analysts and associates from investment banks."

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