Business interview - Bill Nixon, Maven Capital

Bill Nixon, CEO of Maven Capital. Picture: Robert Perry
Bill Nixon, CEO of Maven Capital. Picture: Robert Perry
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IT’S four years since the birth of Maven Capital Partners, and managing partner Bill Nixon is clearly in relaxed and confident form, writes Kristy Dorsey.

Pulling over the nearest chair at the head of the boardroom in Maven’s Glasgow offices, he chats for several minutes about mutual golfing acquaintances before smoothly shifting gears into the story of Maven.

It is a tale he has obviously told before, as are the accompanying anecdotes about his week of rally racing in North Africa earlier this year.

“It has been a really interesting journey,” he says and, though he could be referring to getting lost in the Tunisian desert, he’s actually talking about the career path that brought him to Maven, which has been steadily imposing its footprint on the private equity market.

A £5.5 million investment into Aberdeen-based Fletcher Shipping last week was the latest in string of deals this year.

The son of what might today be called a “serial entrepreneur”, Nixon spent the first part of his childhood in Aberdeenshire, where his father ran a hotel. The family later moved to Ayrshire after Nixon’s dad opened a builders’ merchant in Glasgow.

On leaving school at the age of 17, he took a job as a clerk with Clydesdale Bank and began working his way up, reaching the realms of private equity in his late 20s.

By the mid-1990s, he was head of the private equity team at National Australia Bank (NAB), Clydesdale’s parent group.

It was during this period that he learned the value of working locally, a virtue he has impressed upon Maven.

Nixon recalls frequently missing out on deals while working for NAB in the UK, particularly in Aberdeen, where the tight-knit oil and gas community proved an all-but-impossible market to break into.

“I decided that if you can’t beat them, then join them,” he says.

He switched sides, signing up as head of growth capital at Aberdeen Asset Management in 1999.

Ten years later, Nixon and five other senior executives bought out the operation to create Maven.

From £100m of funds under management in 2009, Maven now has roughly £320m under its control. However, the path to growth has not been straightforward.

What began as a conventional venture capital operation quickly diversified, initially through the development of a co-investment business where high net-worth clients invest in private equity transactions on a deal-by-deal basis.

“It was only nine months after the Lehman Brothers failure, and the market for capital was tight,” Nixon recalls. “Necessity being the mother of invention, we had to raise capital to feed the team.”

Maven now has about 200 co-investment clients on its books, and in the meantime has picked up several bits of chunky work managing government-backed investment schemes.

Since its inception, Maven has run the £30m Capital for Enterprise Fund A, a scheme designed to bridge the funding gap faced by many small and medium-sized enterprises during the financial crisis.

When a similar programme, the Scottish Loan Fund, launched in 2011, Maven picked up the mandate, too.

The £113m Scottish Loan Fund has completed more than a dozen transactions to date, the latest being a £2m injection into ethernet testing business Calnex Solutions of Linlithgow. It has also had two successful exits, the first being the sale of Aberdeen-based energy services company Red Spider Technology to United States giant
Halliburton at the end of last year.

With its roots in Aberdeen, Maven’s investment portfolio includes a healthy slice of investments in the oil and gas sector. Nixon says it is a good market to be in at the moment, with the firm regularly receiving bids for those assets.

“But for us to get off a particular horse, it has to be a knockout offer,” he adds. “If it is a business that is still growing, we are natural holders.”

That said, Maven has completed a string of profitable exits in the past 12 months, giving the group what Nixon describes as “comfortable firepower in excess of £100m” across all its funds. This is being re-invested at a rate of £20m to £40m per year in buy-outs, buy-and-build deals, and financing for acquisitions.

This work is set to receive Nixon’s undivided attention now that he has completed the “boys’ adventure” of the seven-day Tuareg Rallye in March with navigator and friend Fraser Gray, a partner with insolvency expert Zolfo Cooper.

Although surrounded by the Tunisian military as well as their own personal bodyguards, the pair got lost one day in the desert in what Nixon describes as an extreme test of their friendship. There was also the day their 4x4 Desert Warrior truck broke down.

“We had a burst tyre in a very exposed area one day, and I have never changed a wheel so fast in my life,” Nixon says. “What a sight we were – two desk jockeys jacking up this huge truck.”

Bill Nixon - A CV

Job: Managing partner, Maven Capital Partners, Glasgow.

Born: Paisley, 1963. Raised in Aberdeenshire and Ayrshire.

Education: State school and Strathclyde University.

First job: Picking potatoes in Aberdeenshire for 80p an hour.

Ambition while at school: Probably to fly or drive something very fast. Still my ambition.

Car: Porsche.

Kindle or book? Book. There is something comforting about picking up a book, especially on holiday.

Can’t live without: BlackBerry.

Favourite place: Barcelona.

What makes you angry: Laziness and dishonesty.

Best thing about your job: The intellectual variety and the people I work with.