Permira accepts need to be more open

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Europe’s biggest private equity group on Thursday night pledged to provide more information about the high-profile companies it owns, in response to a barrage of trade union criticism in Britain.

In a rare interview, Damon Buffini, managing partner of Permira, rejected claims that private equity was secretive and destroyed jobs but accepted that the industry had to reach out to the wider public.

“There has to be more disclosure,” Mr Buffini told the Financial Times. That was particularly appropriate when Permira owned companies that were household names and big employers, such as the AA motoring organisation and the retailer New Look, he said.

But Mr Buffini said greater disclosure among private equity groups, including information about the names of its investors, did not extend to details of executives’ pay packages, which should be kept private.

Mr Buffini said private equity was a global phenomenon and an unforgiving industry. “There is no parachute for failure in this business,” he said.

As private equity has singled out larger targets, notably retailer J Sainsbury, it has faced unexpected scrutiny and criticism from unions and the left in Britain.

As the world’s second-largest private equity market, the UK is expected to set the tone of the debate in less mature markets in Europe such as Germany, France and Italy.

Developments in the UK also affect large US buy-out groups active in Europe, which are stepping up lobbying in North America amid a Department of Justice probe into potential anti-competitive behaviour.

Mr Buffini pointed out that 30m pensioners, including 1m local government employees and 6m teachers, were invested in Permira’s funds and were direct beneficiaries of its success.

He hit back at critics who claimed that private equity destroyed jobs, saying employment for 4,000 had been created at Travelodge, the budget hotel group, and New Look under the firm’s ownership.

“There are a whole lot of issues coming together,” Mr Buffini said. “People don’t quite understand what we do and the benefits we do bring to the economy. There is a positive story about productivity and job creation . . . those messages have not gotten through.

“We are making the UK effective in a global economy.”

Charles Sherwood, a Permira partner, said that although the firm’s companies had generally been good at communicating with customers, suppliers, business partners and employees, the broader public interest in private equity was legitimate.

“It is new and we are having to adjust to address it. But we are determined to address it and are examining carefully the details of how we do so,” he said.

Mr Sherwood said Permira would encourage the management teams of the companies it owns to engage more openly.

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