A Fireside conversation with Beth Johnson
In the third episode of Titanbay's Fireside Series, Beth Johnson, a Partner at Pavilion, a Mercer Practice – and one of the world’s largest investment consultancies – joined us to talk about private markets’ role in a portfolio and how to construct a long-term private equity programme.
Below are a few of her key takeaways:Starting your PE portfolio
There is room for manager alpha
The differentiation in returns from a bottom and top quartile manager is hugely significant, meaning it’s important to get into second or first quartile managers. Don’t only go for the big names. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk on smaller funds but make sure to do your due diligence.
Repeatable track record
Be sure to choose a fund with a manager you believe to have a repeatable track record going forwards. Look for consistency of strategy and team and review past performance to see if they can deliver within their chosen strategy.
Be flexible in your mindset
Don’t just box tick. Read up on funds, their deal flows, whether their investments still align with your interests and what you thought they’d be investing in. While it’s important to have goals and stick to them, have some flexibility in your mindset.
It pays off to start small
If you have an opportunity to get exposure to a truly top decile firm, even if it is just a small allocation, you’re better off still going for it as it could mean you get better access further down the line.
Traditional buyouts provide the steadiest foundations
Traditional buyout funds should make up a large basis of your private equity portfolio. This can be a mixture of small, regional, sector-specific, and larger ones. Then you could layer in more risky elements, like distressed for example, when it makes sense to after a market fall.
Venture capital can really pay off
Consider building in some venture capital. It’s one of the highest performing parts of private markets but you need time and patience as these are also some of the most risky, leading to substantial variation in returns. Given there’s such a differentiated scale of risk, it should be a smaller component of your portfolio.
Consider VC fund of funds
To mitigate some of these factors, VC funds of funds can be an ideal way to spread risk. For smaller investors making just a few private equity commitments each year, this can be particularly useful.
A little bit of everything in every year
One particular year could be the best year for a given strategy and so by missing out on a vintage, you may miss out on the returns of a lifetime. That is why it is important to have a consistent approach year to year, that align with your overall objectives.
Use secondaries for back-dating a portfolio
Where there are gaps in your portfolio, particularly when you are just starting out, see if you can use secondary funds to back-date a portfolio to help balance out cashflow needs.
It’s better to have a regional spread than going all-in to Asia or US in any given year. Given the macroeconomic overlay, also consider how Africa and EMEA fit in with your portfolio.
The unstoppable rise of technology
Technology is changing so quickly. Opportunities will continue to grow, especially when you look at the demographics globally – there’s a growing middle class and a huge segment are still getting connected to the internet, using mobile phones etc. Technology will undoubtedly be the driver of almost everything.
Do well by doing good
This is a major global focus, and we’re now on the cusp of an inflection point. There is potential to make a real difference by proactively investing in ‘good’ as opposed to just avoiding investing in ‘bad’.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Beth is a Partner and senior investment consultant at Pavilion, a Mercer practice. She currently services six endowment, foundation and family office clients with more than $9 billion in aggregate assets under advisement. For these clients, Beth focuses on projects relating to asset allocation, investment manager selection, performance evaluation, and fund operations and governance.
Beth’s prior professional experience includes work as an investment director for Vanderbilt University’s endowment, where she was responsible for investments across traditional equities and bonds, marketable alternatives, oil and gas, and private equity. She started her investment career as an investment analyst at Duke Management Company, managing investment projects across all asset classes for Duke University’s endowment office.
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