Kevin works with our Business & Financial Services team, bringing his experience improving the performance of businesses over a 25-year career and his great sense of humor and teamwork. Kevin is a chairman of two Advent investments, Domestic & General and Equiniti.
“I see it as my role to make sure the wheels are oiled and to provide constructive challenge; that I’m bringing an independent perspective that is different from that of the executive management and different from that of Advent. My job is to make sure everyone is on the same page and working together… I enjoy the high-performance culture that Advent brings to a portfolio company.”
Kevin Beeston has far-reaching business and management experience, from his CEO tenure at Serco –Group plc- one of the largest service contractors to the British government - to chairman of leading housebuilder Taylor Wimpey and director of Ipswich Town Football Club. During his 25 years at Serco, Kevin transformed the organization from a one-dimensional supplier of ballistic missile early warning systems to a wide-ranging services business that thrived and grew into a FTSE 100 company.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
Firstly, one of continuous improvement. Everything and everyone can be better. Create a high performance culture and create the organization you want to be.
Secondly, enjoy the people you’re working with. For me, everything I do has to be done with a sense of humor. You work hard, and you need to enjoy yourself as well. When the best businesses are running well, people are dedicated and dialed in, and they’re also working with a sense of camaraderie, humor and humility. I enjoy relating to people on a humble basis, as individuals, and it keeps us working together well.
How did you first become involved with Advent?
I spent 25 years with Serco, and during my time there the company developed from a small UK services firm into a multinational business. At about 23 years in, I decided to look for the next phase of my career. I was thinking about a portfolio role, perhaps some non-executive chair roles. I was interested in the private equity arena, so I went and got a feel of what was out there and met with a number of firms.
Advent approached me, and we began talking about Domestic & General, a company they were about to acquire from the London public market. I enjoyed working with them from the start and when they acquired Domestic & General I became chairman. I also took over the chairmanship of Equiniti in 2011. Advent has an approach and a culture that I appreciate very much. I have continued to engage with Advent on a number of fronts, both as chairman and operating partner, and they often ask me for my opinions on other deals they are considering.
Describe your role as an Advent operating partner.
As a non-executive chairman, I act as a go-between for management and shareholders. I see it as my role to make sure the wheels are oiled and to provide constructive challenge; that I’m bringing an independent perspective that is different from that of the executive management and different from that of Advent. My job is to make sure everyone is on the same page and working together. This concept of an independent chairman is rather established in the UK, but it might be less familiar to others.
With which Advent investments are you involved? In what role?
I’m chairman of both Domestic & General and Equiniti. Domestic & General, which was acquired by Advent in December 2007, is a specialist provider of extended warranty plans for household electrical goods like dishwashers, refrigerators, and televisions. The company was a real success story in the UK, and Advent saw an opportunity for significant expansion throughout continental Europe. They took a good business with a good strategy, and they turbocharged it.
My other chairmanship is with Equiniti, which Advent carved out from Lloyds Bank in 2007. Equiniti is a market leader in two major markets: shareholder services (this was the buyout from Lloyds) and pension administration (a separate buyout). Part of the operating challenge was to integrate these two businesses to the extent that they could be integrated. You have two separate businesses, with separate data centers, IT, mailing centers, etc., that goes on in two back offices and that do the same things. There is an opportunity to create a more efficient business by bringing them together and to develop further market propositions by leveraging mutual capabilities.
What has been your greatest challenge?
A challenge people should be aware of coming into this sort of role is that you have to have great patience. The nature of bidding for and winning mandates or acquiring companies in the private equity world means that you probably do only one out of 10 deals you consider. You look at an awful lot of stuff that does not go anywhere. That’s credit to Advent because it’s a disciplined approach to investing. But it can be frustrating when you’ve become enthusiastic about a company and you don’t win the deal or even pursue it.
What have you enjoyed most as an Advent operating partner?
I enjoy the high-performance culture that Advent brings to a portfolio company. At Domestic & General, for example, the business had always done things in a particular way. It had not been stretched or challenged in the way that Advent did when it took ownership. When Advent became involved it was important that Domestic & General was open to accepting help and support from Advent. They were willing to have a shareholder and a board who would add value to the business. Exactly the same applied to Equiniti.
We helped the management team focus on the things that would drive performance, and we put in place a strategic plan with milestones. We broke the plan down into deliverables which we could measure over time, so the business could track progress more easily. All these things - an appreciation of what is possible, an ability to drive higher performance through the management team, and an ability to be systematic and strategic about delivering against that vision - Advent brought to the business. And I really enjoy being part of this.
What advice would you offer someone thinking about becoming an Advent operating partner?
Be prepared for a long-term commitment. Private equity is not short term, as many people think. If you look at a public company, shareholders trade stocks by the week, the hour, the minute. The share register turns over two to three times per year for a typical public company. But if you look at private equity, a commitment is generally for three to four years, which is a long time for people used to the timelines in the public market. So there’s a commitment involved that potential operating partners need to be aware of, and one that they need to be keen to accept.
What does it take to be an effective Advent operating partner?
Being engaged is the first thing I’d say. For operating partners to be valuable, they must have relevant business experience, and they must have a name that can help open doors with top management teams in potential investments. This is the price of entry. Once you are through the door, you need to be engaged and engaging. You need to create a momentum to enable the relationship to work at an optimal level.
The second thing is that you need to be straightforward. I try to be direct, clear, open, and challenging, which brings perspective. Advent’s style is like that, too. Advent people are easy to engage with. I enjoy working with them because they are low-ego and easy to talk to. They are action-oriented, as am I. There is no time to mess around with complicated messages or lots of protocol. They just want to get things done. So all of these things are what make a good operating partner for Advent.
Why do you choose to work with Advent?
When I took on the Domestic & General opportunity, I realized Advent was an inclusive organization, which made me feel valued and part of a team – this has been reinforced by my experience as chairman of Equiniti and as an Advent operating partner. When you have had an executive career and then move into a non-executive role, you typically take on a portfolio of activities with different groups where you are acting mostly in isolation and independently. You obviously try to add value to the things that you do. With Advent, they really do try to involve you broadly and give you a sense of worth and belonging within the Advent family. This partnership-driven culture is important for me. And then, of course, there’s Advent’s impressive track record of success.