In Brief

The Overlooked Alternative

February 2021


Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. No assurance can be given that any investment will achieve its given objectives or avoid losses. Unless apparent from context, all statements herein represent GCM Grosvenor’s opinion.

How a Diligent LP Finds Overlooked Private Equity Opportunities

As institutional investors crowd into alternatives in search of returns and diversification, the search for what is truly alternative in the big picture – and where there might be alpha – becomes more challenging and requires a more creative approach. One idea that investors might consider: Maybe it’s not what you’re investing in, but who you’re investing with.

“How do investors expect to find the potential for outperformance when everyone is fishing in the same pond?” asks Derek Jones, co-head of GCM Grosvenor’s private equity diverse manager practice, along with co-head Jason Howard. What Mr. Jones is getting at is the abundance of overlooked opportunity to be found in diverse, small, and emerging private equity managers. In the view shared by Mr. Jones and Mr. Howard, some of the most talented minds in the investment world are sometimes obscured because investors too often look at the size of the dog in the fight. The GCM Grosvenor team specializes in spotting the tenacity, expertise, and performance of undersized or under-represented PE fund managers – and advocate and enable other LPs to do the same. In a recent interview with Institutional Investor, Mr. Jones and Mr. Howard discussed what motivates them, and how everyone involved benefits, including their firm, the PE managers, and other LPs.

What drives the small, emerging, and diverse manager practice? What’s the philosophy behind it, and how is it good for GCM Grosvenor overall?

Derek Jones: Our view of our fiduciary responsibility is the main driver. We cast as broad a net as possible to capture, understand, interview, and get to know all the human potential in the marketplace. The philosophy is simple – fair and equal consideration for everyone. That’s consistent with our firm’s culture, which fundamentally believes that diversity – of opinion, of sourcing, and ways of doing things – could and should lead to a better outcome.

We seek to run the business as an alpha generator. Over the most recent three years, a third of the capital that we’ve allocated across our private equity platform has gone to diverse managers. It’s integral to our core business, and we can pursue it because of what can be thought of as four Ps: We have the platform as a major capital allocator; presence in the marketplace with a strategy to make diverse managers aware that we’re open for business; the practice, which has now been developed over 15 years and 150 investments; and, the performance, demonstrated by our long and robust track record.1

Jason Howard quote and headshot

You’ve developed a reputation as a “must-see LP” for diverse managers. What has contributed to that perception?

Jason Howard: It’s a fun way to talk about what we do, but what stands behind it is our approach to the marketplace. Said simply, we want to be early and be helpful as we work with managers in this space. We help provide perspective to GPs as they build their teams, deal pipeline, and operational infrastructure. By “early,” we mean in terms of giving advice, sharing best practices, and, in select cases, serving as the first LP to anchor a new fund’s launch. Committing to an investment takes time and requires our usual rigorous process. Still, along the way, we can point out details and issues they should be aware of as they build their operational infrastructure.

A huge amount of capital has been committed and invested by GCM Grosvenor and your team with small, emerging, and diverse private equity managers – more than $15 billion all in, or roughly 38% of all private equity allocations by the firm. What have you learned about the managers you invest in or with?

Howard: Our experience from investing about $5 billion of capital with diverse private equity managers in particular, is that this universe of managers frequently performs as well as, if not better than, the broader PE universe.1 That’s in part because we have identified exceptional managers who have demonstrated extraordinary performance in their strategies, and notable resilience in their ability to overcome hurdles faced throughout their academic and professional experiences.1

We’ve also seen opportunity and performance through co-investing with some managers when they find deals and don’t have sufficient capital to execute them. Having strategic capital that we can co-invest to consummate deals, expand managers’ track records, and demonstrate the quality of deals they can create is exciting – and it can also be materially additive for our clients and their portfolios.

Jones: We have relationships with established diverse managers and emerging diverse managers. We were fortunate to invest very early in what today are identified as some of the best private equity managers in the world, and that has created a sort of multiplier effect in terms of the capital. If you’re raising several billion dollars in any fund, you’re doing that based in part on performance. The same goes for us as a firm – we wouldn’t have a third of our private equity capital invested or co-invested with these managers if the performance weren’t there.1

Derek Jones quote and headshot

What is the process you go through when deciding to invest or co-invest with a fund? Beyond diversity, what are you looking for in the leadership at the manager?

Jones: Diverse managers go through the same funnel and investment committee and are held to the same quantitative and qualitative performance metrics that we look for whenever we commit capital as a firm. There are no free passes. We’re essentially underwriting what I would call the front end, so we’re looking at the team, the historical track record, and the strategy. 1 These days we’re looking for a specialty, too, because there is a need to differentiate from so many firms in the PE space. Is the manager a sector specialist, or have they built an ecosystem around a handful of sectors? Has that given them an advantage in the marketplace?

In the COVID-19 environment, we have seen the benefits of knowing most managers in the space. Having what we feel is an unparalleled knowledge of the diverse manager universe allows us to continue giving clients access to opportunities without disruption.

We’re also looking at alignment, team dynamics, and the ownership structure. These managers are often motivated to leave another platform and set up their shop because they want to create their own culture, including how they work with their partners. That’s the front end. On the back end, we have an operational due diligence team of 16 people who evaluate the manager’s non-investment infrastructure, and at how they’re handling compliance.2 Background checks are performed on senior investment and operations professionals to assess conflicts of interests, reputational risk, etc. We also look to understand who can wire money in and out of the vehicles they’ve invested. We also evaluate their key service providers, their cybersecurity plan, and so on – all the things that we believe are necessary, and in some cases are required or recommended by regulators. We need approval on the front end with our investment committee, and we have a separate operations committee that approves the back end, the operational infrastructure. Both approvals are required before we make the commitment. That’s for every manager that we underwrite, whether they’re diverse or not.

Jason Howard quote and headshot

What are some of the best practices you share with managers to help them in their evolution as a firm?

Jones: We share how a manager may best tell its story in the hour allotted to do so. Our platform sees one to two managers a day, so there’s a lot of traffic. In the typical one-hour meeting, we see a lot of iterations of how managers discuss their strategy, differentiation and competitive advantage, and performance. We also have a wide view of the market and deep pipelines, so we have a good idea who we believe is raising money or who’s likely to raise money over the next three years. Through our proprietary databases, and the market index measures, we have a lot of information and context – we have more resources that allow us to share with managers how their performance may be seen in the marketplace. 1 Is it upper quartile? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their track record? Those two things are super important.

On the operations and due diligence side, we may introduce them to one of our colleagues who will take the time to analyze their organizational structure and provide feedback on how they can improve on things required by us and similar institutional investors, and how they can continue to fulfill those requirements as the fund grows and they raise more money. This is a business where we’re looking to curate the best of the best.1 With private equity, whether the leadership of your firm is diverse or not, it’s a big funnel, and you are distilling that to a small percentage.

In addition, our team of seven who focus on sourcing and investing with diverse managers is made up entirely of people of color and/or women. This supports the view we advocate to LPs and others – that it is beneficial to have a diverse team.

Do other LPs ever ask for your insights on investing or co-investing with diverse or emerging managers?

Howard: Yes, and what we say is be clear about your strategy, your objectives, and your goals. We think that’s critical because it will help LPs narrow their focus to the market segment that’s most interesting to them. Next, we believe it is important to identify the best way to get exposure to diverse managers. That includes determining if LPs can do it on their own or if they should partner with someone with greater resources to pursue it.

There are a lot of reasons for large asset managers to become more diverse. It helps in hiring and retaining a new generation of talent. Research has shown it leads to better decision making. Do other large asset managers ever ask your advice on how their firms can become more diverse?

Howard: Not surprisingly, they do, as we have a reputation of being a very diverse firm – roughly half of our colleagues are women. Overall, 30% of our U.S. co-workers are people of color. We are happy to share best practices on that point and on being very intentional about internship programs. We work with groups like SEO [Sponsors for Educational Opportunity], Girls Who Invest, and other organizations to proactively provide diverse talent an opportunity to come in, learn the business, and demonstrate their capabilities. We also suggest that firms reach out to diversity organizations when they have job openings – especially at senior levels – to list those opportunities with SEO and Toigo. They both have an extensive alumni base of talented, experienced, diverse professionals.

A lot of investment organizations talk about finding people who are a good “fit.”

Howard: Everyone wants people who are a good fit in terms of the talent and skill they bring to a team, but “fit” is often another way of hiring people who have common backgrounds, similar experiences, have gone to similar schools, and share similar career trajectories – and that’s the opposite of diversity.We subscribe to the view that diverse experiences are important in generating different views, which, in turn, lead to better investment decisions, enhanced risk mitigation, and so on. We also encourage managers to think broadly about who’s qualified for a specific role in private equity. Our experience has been that people who come from different backgrounds – consulting, an operating partner role, other nontraditional paths – can have experiences and skills that will help them succeed in private equity. That’s one reason we think that the largest number of women in our universe is in the venture community. People can enter the venture community after having been a marketing executive, an operator at a company, or an entrepreneur, to name a few examples – and a lot of those people have proven themselves as great investors. That’s a very different path versus the typical path of private equity.

Jones: To borrow a well-known phrase, you have to just do it. There are always easy excuses for going to the same two or three schools where the talent pool is largely homogeneous. Building a diverse team has to be part of your strategy. You just have to get out there and put in the work.

Derek Jones quote and headshot

One of the nice benefits of your efforts is that they help attract the next generation of talent. What do you see in that generation that you find interesting? And how do you think the latest generation of talent will evolve in the future?

Jones: Broadly speaking, in the old days, you had to be a good investor. Today, you not only have to be a good investor, but a good fund manager because there are increasing requirements around the back end. I also think diversity is going to play a bigger theme. More people are talking about it – young people, public funds, boards, trustees. Sector specialization will continue to be a theme, too. I’m not sure whether the next generation has a desire to spend three years raising a multi-billion-dollar fund. They may look to raise a smaller fund with a niche strategy. Technology will increasingly be used to source and identify opportunities and analyze data – which companies are growing or not, in which sectors and sub-sectors, in which themes. Finally, I think you’ll see less concentrated economics. Over half of private equity buyout capital in 2019 went to the top 20 firms. The majority of those funds still have the founders in place after more than 20 years, so we’ll see younger talent leaving and setting up their own shop. As a result, the economics are likely to be spread around a little more. It’s just an evolution in the market.

Many of the managers you work with are, as noted, small. How can you help them while their businesses grow?

Howard: Pension plans, insurance companies, corporates, etc. find it difficult to make large commitments to small managers, so they’ll hire firms like ours to invest in these managers as a way to start a long-term relationship. In a way, we look to build a team of managers who are up and coming and exceptional at what they do – an analogy could be the minor league system in baseball. As managers become larger, more established, and receive capital from our clients directly, we transition those managers directly to our clients. That goes back to the idea of how LPs can access diverse managers. If they can only write a $100 million check or $50 million check, but they want to work with diverse managers, it may make sense to partner with us because we can invest in a number of managers on their behalf. We can then transition GPs to have a direct relationship with LPs as they prove their capabilities as a standalone entity.

To be clear, that scenario is more about size than investment expertise, correct?

Howard: Many emerging managers are exceptional the day they start their firms. It’s like a world-class heart surgeon who is part of a practice with 50 other doctors, and then leaves and sets up shop with just one other surgeon. That person is no less a world-class heart surgeon because they’re at a two-doctor practice.

Jones: If you’re a woman or a person of color walking into our office raising $500 million, you’ve been exceptional throughout your career. A commonality we’ve found is that diverse managers have had to be exceptional at almost every level to put themselves in a position to raise that kind of money credibly. There’s still plenty of wood to chop, too. Less than 2% of capital is handled by managers who are not white men, which means more than 98% is not being invested with diverse managers, including white women. We’re trying to do our part.

Howard: Investors canvas the entire world for return opportunities, and many diverse managers who are proven who have great track records are overlooked.1 It’s not because of a lack of skill and expertise. It’s just that the institutional marketplace doesn’t necessarily see the same opportunities investing with these managers that we do. We think diverse manager track records demonstrate that other LPs miss out on opportunities and return potential if they’re not investing in this segment of the market.1

Diverse Manager Case Study

GCM Grosvenor is a strategic LP to managers and catalyzes GP fundraising. In doing so, the firm seeks creative and meaningful ways to support the fundraising efforts of small, diverse, and emerging private equity managers by providing investment capital, resources, and expertise. Here’s a case study of how GCM Grosvenor acted as a strategic investor and formed a partnership that benefited its clients, the manager, and the firm.

The Manager: The investment manager (the “manager”) is a certified Minority and Women-Owned Business, founded over a decade ago. One of company’s co-founders has more than 25 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry, having invested in and loaned CRE assets on behalf of large pension funds and institutional investors. The manager has invested over $4 billion in CRE debt and structured equity.

The Partnership: GCM Grosvenor partnered with the manager to help launch its commingled fund business and create potential upside for GCM Grosvenor and its clients via promote-sharing with the manager, while seeking to invest in a lower-risk investment strategy that looks to provide downside mitigation.

The Win: The partnership provided the manager with capital to make investments that ultimately served as seed assets for its initial commingled fund; investors appreciated the ability to buy into a partial seed portfolio.

How the Partnership Evolved

  • 2012: One of the company’s co-founders meets with GCM Grosvenor team. The manager is considered an established emerging manager, having raised more than $400 million in pre-fund assets.
  • 2013: GCM Grosvenor recommends changes to pitch materials.
  • 2014: GCM Grosvenor facilitates industry relationships and encourages future development of track record.
  • 2016: GCM Grosvenor and the manager form a joint venture partnership with GCM Grosvenor providing $55 million in seed capital.
  • 2016 to 2018: GCM Grosvenor participates in reference calls with new investors on the manager’s behalf. GCM Grosvenor consults and advises on the manager’s capital raising strategy and key investor relations hire.
  • 2017: Funds hold first close with more than $180 million in commitments.
  • 2019: Fund holds final close with more than $410 million raised.

You can read the entire Institutional Investor feature article here.

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Important Disclosures

For illustrative and discussion purposes only. 

No assurance can be given that any investment will achieve its objectives or avoid losses. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

The information and opinions expressed are as of the date set forth therein and may not be updated to reflect new information.

nvestments in alternatives are speculative and involve substantial risk, including strategy risks, manager risks, market risks, and structural/operational risks, and may result in the possible loss of your entire investment. The views expressed are for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendations, or an offer to buy or sell securities by GCM Grosvenor. All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market, economic, or political conditions. The investment strategies mentioned are not personalized to your financial circumstances or investment objectives, and differences in account size, the timing of transactions, and market conditions prevailing at the time of investment may lead to different results. Certain information included herein may have been provided by parties not affiliated with GCM Grosvenor. GCM Grosvenor has not independently verified such information and makes no representation or warranty as to its accuracy or completeness.

Data Sources:|

1 Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. No assurance can be given that any investment will achieve its objectives or avoid losses.

2 Due diligence processes seek to mitigate, but cannot eliminate risk, nor do they imply low risk.

Investments and commitments data as of June 30, 2020. Employee data as of January 1, 2021.

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