Covid-19: A challenge or an opportunity for Private Equity firms?

Covid-19: A challenge or an opportunity for Private Equity firms?

Covid-19 is a massive challenge not only for the global economy but for humanity as a whole. This is once in a lifetime black swan event which is going to rewrite the rules of businesses across geographies and industries. As the details and impact of this tragedy are still unfolding, here are the steps that Private Equity firms can take, which will significantly mitigate the risk in these tough times:

  • Focus on Employees: A PE firm should first and foremost secure its employees. This can either be done through offering work-flexibility or giving incentives for effective testing and treatments. The partners should act as the role model and it makes sense to communicate the firm’s commitment towards the health and wellness of their employees. In the scenario where all the work is done remotely, it also makes sense to communicate more often through continuous audio and video calls.

 

  • Streamline Processes: An event like Covid-19 will test the Business Continuity Planning elements of even the most agile organizations. It’s an opportunity for Private Equity firms to fine-tune theirs. Making sure all important elements of the business are efficiently run is the need of the hour, whether it is about continuously looking for more investment targets, having effective investment committee meetings remotely and being in touch with the management of portfolio companies for any assistance required. Board and other meetings need to be done remotely and assure the portfolio companies of the financial assistance and other support. This is also a good time to test operations’ outsourcing because if anything, this is going to be the time of hyperactivity, fishing for opportunities. An outsourcing agency can help in taking care of the additional work-load

 

  • Zoom in on Portfolio Companies: Covid-19 will impact every business on the planet. PE firms should dedicate most of their time in assessing its impact on their portfolio companies. It will largely depend on the industry in which the portfolio companies are. Some portfolio companies say in the business of Pharma, Healthcare and FMCG need to move faster to adjust their processes to take business advantage and to make themselves available for this humanitarian challenge. Also, there will be some businesses like frontline retail, hospitality, and airlines that are bound to take a hit. Analyzing where to focus the resources and energy is going to be crucial. A PE firm that moves quickly and decisively during these times will see earlier and more profitable exits as compared to peers in the future

 

  • Financial Challenges of the Portfolio Companies: Once it is identified as to which portfolio companies will need financial support, the next step would be to get into the details of the Balance sheet and business of these portfolio companies to fine-tune the contours of the package. Here are some of the operational areas that could be looked into:
    • Vendor Payments: Can payments to vendors be postponed/staggered? Can contracts be re-negotiated for better terms?
    • Collections: Can collections from clients be expedited? Is it possible to collect early by giving discounts? What has been the impact of Covid-19 on customer’s businesses? Is there leverage available? If the impact has been positive, can it be monetized quickly?
    • Debt options: What are the short term debt options available to the business? Which is the most competitive option in terms of interest rates? Can there be some advantages that can be taken on the back of historically low-interest rates currently prevailing?
    • Further infusion of cash: If the business has a long-term viability and would emerge victorious after the Covid-19 challenge, it might make sense to offer cash to the portfolio company as an equity or debt
    • Opportunities of M&A: If there are portfolio companies that are similar and operate in the same industry, are there enough synergies to justify an M&A to tide over the financial challenges?

 

  • Putting Dry Powder to Work: Private Equity as an industry has entered this phase with a record dry powder with them. It is time to put that dry powder to use. If there are any businesses that are going through tough times and would need urgent infusion to stay afloat, recovery would be swift and returns may very well justify the risk. The trick here is to stay in the industry where the firm has expertise in, and may very well be aware of the targets and its operational challenges to decipher if the challenge faced is short term or strategic

 

  • Communicate well with LPs: Limited Partners like everyone else are panicked too. In these times of uncertainty, they look forward to receiving as much information as possible on their past investments and the impact of Covid-19 on the operations of the firm and the portfolio companies. A more frequent and dedicated newsletter highlighting all the risks and rewards would go a long way in earning their long term loyalty with the firm and the fund. It’s time to communicate well and communicate more, albeit remotely

 

Overall it can be concluded that if handled effectively, these times can very well turn out to be an opportunity for global private equity firms. The need is to be operationally agile and hyperactive.

 

We wish as humanity we see through this challenge successfully and emerge stronger out of this. Stay Safe!! Stay Indoors!!

 

The Author is the CEO of Magistral Consulting (www.magistralconsulting.com), a firm that helps global Private Equity firms in outsourcing operations. He can be reached at Prabhash.choudhary@magistralconsulting.com for any queries.

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