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Sarah Rajani of Apax Partners shares her private equity insights

19 Mar 2014 by Sarah Leembruggen.

Tell us a little about Apax Partners and your role there.

I took on the role of Director of Communications at Apax in February 2013.   I’m responsible for leading and setting the strategic direction for all aspects of the Firm's media relations, corporate communications and public and regulatory affairs globally.  From week to week, I am presented with a great deal of variety in my role.  I’m here to promote, enhance and protect Apax’s global reputation, its brand and our people, to communicate a consistent narrative to all our stakeholders and to evaluate and mitigate risk, ensuring there are no surprises along the way.  I would summarise the role as a combination of reactive firefighting and proactive strategic planning.

While it is generally believed that the Private Equity industry performs well, its reputation remains low.  What do you think can be done to improve the image of PE?

The Private Equity industry has come a long way in the last 30 years.  It has grown into one of the leading and most successful sectors in the global economy.  PE brings a great deal to the table: the ability to create jobs and to nurture business growth, the injection of capital, operational expertise and industry knowledge, which in turn raises the performance of companies and leads to significant economic growth.  

PE has brought transformation to business and, in so doing, has made a valuable contribution to the economy, yet those achievements and benefits remain underexposed.  There remains a huge opportunity to improve understanding, increase transparency and to articulate the role PE plays in society.  The industry needs to do a better job at articulating the success stories. 

One of the ways in which we can best do this, is to use our portfolio companies as advocates to promote our accomplishments.  Successes need to be articulated on a wider scale: to the international media, the Government, the Trade Unions, the EU and the general public.  Ensuring that our message reaches a wide range of audiences is good for business, the economy and the overall image of PE.

There aren’t many Private Equity firms with in-house PR functions.  When you took on the role at Apax, what was the first thing you set about achieving?

My appointment reflects a changing landscape in the world of PE.  There is a growing desire to reset expectations as to what best-in-class communications looks like and to establish a relationship with the media that not only showcases the benefits of the industry but also engenders a sense of mutual trust and respect.  Apax has very much recognized this changing landscape and identified the need to respond.  I came into the Director of Comms role with a somewhat atypical background, with an MA in Mathematics and previous experience as an Equity Analyst, and time spent in Strategic Development and Investor Relations roles within corporates. 

This background has brought with it, its own unique set of strengths.  I bring a strong analytical approach to an often ambiguous, intangible area.  When presented with a blank canvas to redefine the Firm’s communications strategy, my priority was to challenge legacy to create and drive a new communications agenda for the Firm.   My objectives were to define and shape our brand, to showcase and differentiate the Firm and to highlight how we are positioned for success moving forward. 

What aspects of the role have you found most challenging?

There’s a deeply embedded culture in the industry to adopt an “under the radar” approach towards the media and it has taken a great deal of careful navigation to reset expectations internally, and to unite a diverse group of individuals in their views as to what best-in-class communications looks like.  I work with a group of very driven and highly educated individuals who are very resolute in their work ethic.  I think that the composite of a systematic, analytical approach and a background in Investment Banking has helped me understand and effectively translate the need to establish greater credibility and engage in more collaborative communications externally.  Apax has been very supportive of the need to make this shift which can only be viewed as an undeniably positive sign.

What would you say has been your proudest moment?

I feel proud of the huge amount of progress that has been made in achieving a shift in mindset to take on a more collaborative and proactive approach in our communications strategy.  This was certainly reflected in the communication of the unanimous election of our co-CEO’s last December, to a broad group of stakeholders, including our employees, our LP’s, and the world’s media.  Strategically, this was the culmination of months of planning and preparation, with a great deal of meticulous thought dedicated to how we communicated our message.  The resulting coverage was very supportive and Apax was praised for its navigation of what can often be a very sensitive area.

What do you think needs to be done to get Private Equity firms to warm to the media?

It’s a delicate subject; at its core lies the basic need for an increase in trust and respect on both sides.  PE is not seeking a relationship to generate coverage per se, but rather one that will tell a well-balanced story and highlight what the industry can bring to society.  The media needs to understand the very unique culture behind the industry and bring prominence to our successes.  Of course, there is a lot of work to do on both sides in order to attain a reciprocal understanding but PE is going to play an increasingly vital role in society and will continue to generate a huge amount of good, which ultimately cannot be ignored.

What would you like to achieve over the course of the next 12 months?

Apax’s communications culture is continuously evolving, both internally and externally.  The recent leadership transition provides a platform to further promote and strengthen the Firm’s positioning and reputation over the longer-term.  Through constructive engagement, we seek to continue to build and maintain long-term relationships with all our external stakeholders, based on trust and mutual advantage, and to ensure the firm is fully understood by all our key stakeholders.

I also believe there is an opportunity to show that we are a firm with a heart, as well as a mind.  Apax Partners is a strong believer in socially responsible and sustainable investing and we should highlight and promote the work we do with the Apax Foundation and social entrepreneurship.  The firm chose social entrepreneurship as the main focus of its charitable giving, as it is the logical extension of what we do commercially and an area where several senior members of the Firm have significant experience.  The Apax Foundation supports charities working to help people in deprived communities to lift themselves out of poverty through enterprise. 

On a more personal note, how do you keep motivated at work?

I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by some very high caliber, extremely smart people which makes the job intellectually challenging and fulfilling. I am involved in a broad spectrum of undertakings which puts me in the happy position of always learning something.  My working environment has a strong entrepreneurial leaning.  If you have a strong conviction about something, you are encouraged to pursue it.  Working to this principle, while feeling trusted and fully supported, spurs me on to make a difference in some way… that’s all while maintaining a healthy degree of cynicism and a good sense of humour of course!

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