Q&A: Robin Marshall, Partner, Growth Capital, 3i Group

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Robin Marshall is a U.S.-based partner at 3i, a private equity firm headquartered in London, working in the firm's Growth Capital Group. As one of the founders of 3i's U.S. Growth business, he recruited a team of 20 that has invested in transactions worth over $4.5 billion to date. Marshall specializes in growth and buyout transactions and sits on the boards of Quintiles (a pharmaceutical research company) and the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG).

How Did You Become a Partner at 3i?

I'm originally from Scotland, and am now based in New York. I studied history at the University of Glasgow. My professional career began after completing post graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania.

I started my career in marketing and brand management, spending five years at Procter & Gamble in the U.K. and Germany. It was a great experience that allowed me to understand how business worked and provided me with the opportunity to lead major brands. Next, I moved over to McKinsey & Company, where I spent three years, working both in the U.K. and Sweden. McKinsey expanded my horizons and exposed me to many different people and cultures. It was a wonderful experience working with great people and helping solve some very significant issues for some of the world's leading businesses.

As I thought about the future, I wanted a role which combined the decision making responsibility I had enjoyed at P&G with the variety and intellectual stimulation that McKinsey offered. Private equity seemed like the ideal next step.

We are very privileged in our industry. We have insight and access to wonderful companies across the world, which we can impact through our participation on the boards. I joined 3i, the leading private equity firm in Europe, in 2000 and originally worked in the U.K. I served as a managing director in our U.K. business, and worked on a number of deals across the consumer, healthcare and services sectors.

Starting in late 2005, I led 3i's efforts to set up the firm's U.S. private equity business. We established an office in New York City, and now have a team of over 20 professionals. We focus on growth deals in the mid-market, investing $50 million to $300 million of equity per transaction.

What's a typical day like?

There really is no typical day, which is one of the huge attractions of this role. We spend as much time as possible in the market, meeting companies and management teams. We think about the deals in three stages: origination, execution and active partnership.

Origination involves identifying potential investment opportunities from a variety of sources, determining if the investment is appropriate for 3i and determining if we can partner with the company to add value. Execution involves due diligence, negotiating the deal and financing. Active partnership with our portfolio companies happens after we have made the investment. We seek to leverage 3i's experience of over 60 years of private equity investing to the benefit of our partner companies. This can involve instilling best practices across a variety of disciplines that can include pricing, sales force effectiveness, lean process implementation, identification of organic and/or acquisitive growth opportunities, and providing access to knowledge, networks, training and expertise. Each day will inevitably involve some or all of the above activities.

What type of skills do you look for in private equity?

The kinds of skills that are required for private equity include great thinking and problem solving ability, both analytical and strategic. Also, strong interpersonal and relationship building skills and resilience.

It's important to be around private equity investors because the business is so experienced-based and very much an apprenticeship model. We deal with lots of information and it comes at you very quickly. Thus, analytical and strategic skills provide the foundation for sound judgment that is developed over time. You need to be able to sort through a lot of information, make a decision having taken account of a myriad of potential consequences, and then communicate the decisions to all parties involved.

It's critical that you have strong interpersonal skills since you work with different types of people on deals, and you need to be able to get along well with them. A fundamental philosophy at 3i is partnership - we partner with management teams in our deals and it is only through shared aspirations and true partnership that we jointly achieve our goals.

You also should be resilient. Working in private equity can be an emotional roller-coaster and it's important to be able to maintain a sense of perspective so you don't get carried away with the highs and don't get too down with the lows. A sense of humor also helps.

What are some strategies for pursuing a career in private equity?

You can learn about private equity by spending time with people in the business or networking. You should be following the world of business, reading the obvious publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and the Economist, etc. There are also a number of publications that are specific to the private equity world. You should use them to learn about the key private equity firms and important deals being done. It's important to participate in some industry organizations, for example the Association for Corporate Growth, as you can use these groups to facilitate introductions to all types of people in, or connected to, private equity.

Can you talk about how the sector is changing?

We believe over the long term the industry will broadly split into two different groups of players: the first group will be the large global players that have brand presence and operate in all the major continents. We believe there will probably be about 20 to 25 firms in this space. The second group will be smaller, focused private equity firms who focus on a particular sector or country.

In addition, as our industry matures we also have to develop a more institutional and transparent mindset. The industry is increasingly playing a more prominent role in society based on the type, number and size of deals in which we are participating. For example, recently in the U.S. the large energy company TXU was taken private. This is a company whose activities - the supply of energy - affect our daily lives. This produces an increase in the level of public scrutiny because of the type of assets being bought.

If you look at core service sectors such as healthcare and retail, we see that private equity touches many people in the U.S. every day. We will have to respond to this by being more open and transparent, and communicating more widely with the communities in which we live and work.

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