The Big Interview: Maven Capital’s managing partner Bill Nixon

Maven Capital Partners managing partner Bill Nixon describes the business as an interesting, exciting and diverse place where people with ideas get listened to. Picture: Peter Dibdin

Maven Capital Partners managing partner Bill Nixon describes the business as an interesting, exciting and diverse place where people with ideas get listened to. Picture: Peter Dibdin

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He says he started his career aged 17, as a “wet-behind-the-ears” bank clerk. Having progressed to the role of managing partner at private equity fund manager Maven Capital Partners, Bill Nixon points out that he’s now in his 37th year of uninterrupted work in financial services.

“I’m the old man now,” he jokes. But he also believes he’s been “very fortunate” to have the career he has.

Growing up in Ayr and Aberdeen, he started his career at Clydesdale Bank and stayed with the lender for the next 20 years, a period he says provided valuable experience and training. This included becoming accredited as a member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland via Glasgow Caledonian University.

He helped set up Clydesdale’s first commercial credit department in the late 1980s before moving into its private-equity business in the 1990s, when he did an MBA at the University of Strathclyde.

Eventually taking charge of private equity at the bank, he says it became evident that the sector did not fully align with then-owner National Australia Bank (NAB) being a “fairly conservative organisation at that time”.

Subsequently a “consensual transaction” took place whereby NAB agreed that Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) would take on the Clydesdale Bank equities business. “I moved over to [AAM] at that time, effectively with portfolio and team, with what I suppose was a partial acquisition and a partial buyout of the business.”

He then spent ten years at the business, where his work included setting up various funds, venture-capital trusts (VCTs) that provide private-equity capital to help firms grow, and institutional funds.

But history was destined to repeat itself, and he recalls that just as private equity had become non-core to NAB, eventually the same happened at AAM in the late 2000s.

“Not that I take any of this personally,” he stresses. “Private equity was not a sector that PLCs were really interested in that time, and to be honest most private-equity businesses tend to be owned by their managers. It’s not a business that sits naturally within a large institutional fund manager, or certainly did not at that time.

“Our team were the only real natural buyers. We bought the business in 2009 and the rest is history.”

Following the management buyout, Maven has now grown to about 50 full-time staff, steadily increased from 20 originally taken out of AAM.

The firm says it invests mainly in established UK companies, typically valued at up to £25 million, and providing funding for entrepreneurial businesses, normally of £2m to £10m in a single transaction.

These include the announcement last month of its £2.5m investment in motor retailer Rockar, which aims to revolutionise the car-buying experience.

Maven also now has a six-strong office network split north and south of the Border, with premises in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Birmingham, London and Manchester.

Since 2009 the firm has “really been transformed from a small, retail-focused VCT manager to managing private equity, mezzanine and property funds”, saying it has more than 100 assets and is one of the biggest investors in the UK SME sector.

“We offer a range of products for almost every different type of business,” he adds, also pointing out that in 2011 it decided to move into property, seeing this as a “very complementary business”.

Maven consequently started a property asset management business which now has a team of ten, with its syndicates now owning five hotels across the UK including two in Scotland.

“We tend to lead one new hotel-development project a year,” he says, highlighting its acquisition of Shire Hall in Durham.

Maven announced in April that it completed a £15m deal for the purchase and refurbishment of the Grade II-listed property, for conversion into an 81-bedroomed four-star Hotel Indigo, the boutique brand of InterContinental Hotels Group.

Funding for the project included a £5.25m equity raise by Maven, which admitted at the time that such deals are “challenging to pull together”.

Nixon also flags the firm undertaking various student accommodation developments in Scotland, with one example also announced in April – its acquisition of purpose-built Courthouse Apartments in Dundee.

The property was “very tired and in distress”, Nixon says, with the site undergoing a comprehensive £6.7m internal refurbishment and set to open shortly in a city Maven sees as having a real shortage of such accommodation.

“We are attracting quite a lot of international money for these projects,” Nixon observes.

Turning to Brexit, the business in fact expects to see “a bit of a boost” in the short term as a result, although he admits that further down the line “is much less clear”.

However, it is the outlook for Scotland that he sees as causing more immediate concerns for investors, potentially dampening asset values.

“At the risk of being slightly contentious, I think we’re starting to see a bit of a slowdown again in overseas interest on the back of a degree of constitutional uncertainty.

“Some investors have said ‘Scotland’s not for us at the moment until the constitutional position is a bit clearer’, so whatever happens, I think it would be good to have certainty one way or another, because at the moment we’re in a bit of limbo.”

He says that about half of Maven’s private-equity portfolio is in Scotland due to its “stronger” presence here, providing “a bigger share of a smaller market”, while most of its property is south of the Border.

And rather than give targets for Maven’s headcount, he says the aim is for business growth, “and the team follows”.

He states: “We’re very keen to continue to grow the business in a number of areas.” One such area is the private rented sector, which he says is “the next logical space for us to move into and do more in” after seeing the student-accommodation market as risking saturation in some areas.

As for the move from working for large corporations to heading his own firm, this was a smoother transition than might be expected.

“I spent two decades working for a major bank and ten years working for a major asset-management company. I was very fortunate at both… that I was largely left alone to run a business or part of a business.

“It just felt like a very natural progression to run my own business and that’s a decision that I’ve never regretted.”

Classifying himself as an “adopted” Glaswegian, Nixon divides his time between Maven’s base in the city and London, and he is the principal fund manager for the six Maven-managed VCTs.

He also highlights Maven as an “interesting, exciting and diverse place to work”, covering various sectors and projects, with less bureaucracy than working in a bank.

”People with ideas “get listened to –we’re always on the lookout for the next new product or new sector”.

And despite the financial focus of the firm, he insists that it is “much more than about money – our people are always very interested and very passionate about the people and the companies that they back”.

Looking back over his career, he says he’s found it “very rewarding”, with his current role seeing him “being my own boss and an entrepreneur in my own right”.

He flags highlights such as investing and seeing a business grow and exit, “and everyone does very well out of it… and the business moves into the hands of an owner that can take it to the next level.

“The lowlights are obviously where businesses underperform, people don’t try or management misbehaves, which happens occasionally but that’s part of the skillset in this job. You’ve got to be able to roll up your sleeves when it doesn’t go to plan.

“Anyone can invest. It’s getting the money back with a profit that is the real skill – that’s the challenge.”

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