However, the vintages of the early nineties turned out to be classics and a decade of growth followed. The firm expanded. In 1990, a new business was opened in Paris, headed by Gonzague de Blignières. It was established as a parallel business – a sister company to be run independently and not a subsidiary of the UK operation. The Manchester office opened shortly after.
Now led by Graeme White, the firm opened an office in Munich in 1998. “The first deal put forward by the German team was not one that the UK would have considered doing. And I said so,” says Tom Lamb. “Graeme’s response was to say: ‘I understand your concerns but we have recruited these guys because we think they are good and this is the deal they want to put forward. If we are going to have a business in Germany, we do not turn this down.’ We didn’t. And he was right.”
The new country heads were put onto the investment and management committees of the business. “His view was that if we did not, we would not have a cohesive business in the future,” says Tom. “It would always be them and us. They had to participate in all our investment decisions from the start. If we had waited years for them to prove themselves, we wouldn’t have the right culture. He was right about that, too.”
That distinctive culture was evident to new arrivals. “It felt collegiate when I joined and that has remained,” says Phil Griesbach, who joined the Birmingham office in 1997. This has always been a firm where people want you to do well and recognise that we are all in it together.”
The second half of the 1990s was “fantastic – a golden age,” remembers Blakemore. Judiciously, the firm deliberately stayed away from getting caught up in the dot-com mania.
In the 1990s the firm started to manage external money. While Barclays had always recognised that the business had to be run independently, this was a big step. External investors allowed the firm to take majority positions without the bank having a controlling stake.
Initially, this was addressed via an arrangement with a firm called Parallel Ventures but, as the new millennium dawned, Graeme White decided that the firm needed its own fund to manage. Barclays Private Equity, as it was known by then, was to evolve into a semi-captive operation.