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Sustaining a legacy

The late Professor Mike Wright was the driving force behind CMBOR. Nicholas Neveling met Nottingham University Business School’s Dr Kevin Amess to discuss the centre’s relaunch, supported by Equistone, and his plans for the years ahead.

CMBOR logo

NN: Congratulations on your appointment as Director of the Centre for Private Equity and MBO Research. Could you outline the position CMBOR was in before you were approached?

KA: CMBOR was launched at the Nottingham University Business School in 1986 and moved to Imperial College Business School in London in 2011.

The passing of CMBOR’s founder, Professor Mike Wright, in 2019 was sudden and unexpected. Mike was the driving force behind CMBOR and questions were raised about its sustainability without his presence.

It is a testament to the high regard in which Mike was held that many people were keen to see CMBOR continue. We felt CMBOR’s continuation would be a great legacy for Mike.

Dr Kevin Amess, Director of the Centre for Private Equity and MBO Research
Dr Kevin Amess, Director of the Centre for Private Equity and MBO Research

Mike supervised my PhD in the mid-1990s, and we continued to work together subsequently. I was one of the few researchers Mike trusted with access to the database.

Following Mike’s passing and CMBOR’s planned closure, CMBOR’s Deputy Director Rod Ball, who had worked with Mike at the Centre for many years, started to look at what the options were.

Rod was really at the nexus of it all. He was determined to protect Mike’s legacy and avoid a situation where the database would simply be given away to commercial data providers.

Rod put me in contact with Jon Tucker, the Faculty Operating Officer at Imperial College Business School, to discuss the possibility of moving CMBOR back to Nottingham. Rod was also in contact with Christiian Marriott at Equistone, who had been long-standing partners and sponsors of CMBOR. Securing Equistone’s support was very important for CMBOR’s future.

I then approached Duncan Angwin, the Dean of Nottingham University Business School, and he was very enthusiastic about bringing CMBOR back to Nottingham. Imperial were happy with the arrangement and Equistone was also onboard. Everything came together and we relaunched CMBOR at Nottingham at the end of May this year.

Rod will stay on to support CMBOR in a consultancy role. That was really important. Rod has collected and tracked the data for decades. It is a labour-intensive exercise, and nobody knows the database better than he does.

Nottingham University has provided some start-up funding to support the move from Imperial, but CMBOR will become self-sufficient. Equistone stays on as a cornerstone sponsor and the centre will continue to generate revenue from the sale of quarterly buyout reports and other data products.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the role Mike’s wife, Maryse Wright, played. She was very supportive to me, providing a lot of encouragement and moral support. I don’t think I would have done this without her encouragement and support. Her opinion of what happened to CMBOR carried a lot of moral weight with all of us involved with CMBOR’s future.

Maryse sees CMBOR as part of Mike’s legacy, which is why she wanted to keep it going. She was also very concerned about the futures of those involved with CMBOR. In the end, she was very happy to see CMBOR continue and has been a constant source of encouragement.

NN: With the organisational elements now in place, what are your plans for CMBOR and where do you see the organisation going?

KA: Succeeding Mike is a daunting task. Mike was a one-off. He was an extraordinarily prolific researcher, publishing more than 40 books and over 300 academic papers. Mike was a big personality at the front of what CMBOR did. He was a pioneer in the research of private equity and the CMBOR database put him at the forefront of the field as there weren’t any other data providers around in the 1980s and 1990s.

For the next phase of CMBOR’s development, my focus is going to be on institutionalising the centre and its data, so that CMBOR’s significant value and knowledge doesn’t reside in a few individuals.

I am also excited about the opportunities for collaboration between CMBOR and other researchers and would like the centre and its database to become a resource for the wider business school, academic community as well as industry.

Across all universities there is a renewed focus on demonstrating how research impacts wider society, beyond academia. Universities are moving away from doing research for its own sake, to seeking opportunities for knowledge exchange with other organisations and businesses. CMBOR has great potential to develop into a gateway between the university and the private equity industry.

Under Mike’s leadership, CMBOR also built a reputation as an authoritative source of buyout data and became a big driver of media publicity for the business schools at Nottingham and Imperial. Maintaining that legacy will be a priority.

CMBOR is still distinct in that it is an independent academic centre that produces research. It is not just a commercial provider of data.

NN: Where do you see CMBOR fitting into the private market data ecosystem?

KA: CMBOR was the first real private equity database in Europe, but as the industry has grown, other providers have come into market and the landscape is much more competitive. 

CMBOR is still distinct in that it is an independent academic centre that produces research. It is not just a commercial provider of data. Its focus is also on the portfolio company and how private equity impacts portfolio companies, whereas most of the purely commercial providers are pivoted towards investors and quantifying the deployment and returns of limited partners in alternative assets.

You also can’t underestimate the value of Rod’s knowledge to what CMBOR produces. He is someone with decades of experience of capturing and categorising buyout data.

NN: Finally Kevin, what is your background and how did you come to do your PhD under Mike and get into the private equity research in the first place?

KA: I was doing an MSc in economics at York and wanted to do a PhD, but needed to secure funding. I saw an advert for a PhD and graduate teaching position at Nottingham, covering this thing called management buyouts (MBOs). Mike was one of the supervisors.

In the mid-1990s private equity was still a very small industry and I had no idea what an MBO was. You couldn’t jump on a search engine, so I headed off to the library to look for papers on MBOs and one of them was by Mike. That was all I had to go on, but I went to the interview and was given the position.

My PhD looked into the performance effect on portfolio companies of MBOs and I haven’t looked back since. 

A full version of this article appeared in PLATFORM 05, Summer 2021