Buffini breaks cover
Persuading Damon Buffini to be interviewed for broadcast has been like teaching a cat to swim. The boss of Europe's largest private equity firm is allergic to being in the public eye (it is called “private” equity, after all).
But he finally agreed yesterday - and if you click here, you can hear the full version of his responses to the many and heated criticisms of Permira and its ilk.
Permira controls swathes of the UK high street, hotels, the AA, much of British bingoland – and plenty more overseas. It's the largest firm of its sort in Europe and is going head-to-head with the global giants, which all happen to be American.
Is that a reason to celebrate? Is private equity spearheading a reconstruction of the British economy to make it leaner meaner and more productive?
Or is the GMB trade union right that the partners of private equity firms are accumulating obscene wealth by slashing jobs and selling off crown-jewel assets?
It’s the industrial debate of our age. And it reminds me of the passions raised 20 years ago over the seemingly unstoppable rise of the acquisitive conglomerates Hanson and BTR. Just about everyone who weighed into that debate turned out to be wrong (BTR was widely regarded as superior to Hanson, when the opposite was the case; ICI was perceived to be far too important to the British economy to be allowed to fall into the hands of the supposed cowboys at Hanson, so ICI continued to be managed as an independent by a succession of pompous managers who couldn’t reverse its long term decline; and so on).
Of one thing I am clear. Buffini himself could be a wonderful role model for can-do Britain. He was brought up on a council estate by a single mum, he’s black and he was educated at state schools. Now he runs one of the most powerful financial institutions in Europe.
As I say, he could be the evangelist for a meritocratic, socially mobile UK – and one day cats might choose too to swim.