Exhibition News March 2019 - Page 21

Cover Feature Following private equity investment in Nineteen Group, EN sits down with the organiser’s leadership team and investor to talk future growth, the appeal of the industry and the tricky business of acquiring t’s no secret that the world of private equity investment has been taking a considerable interest in the trade show industry in recent years. Unsurprising, considering this industry’s ability to provide an almost unparalleled return on investment. One of the more recent PE investments was that of Phoenix Equity, which has given its backing to Nineteen Group, organiser of the International Security Expo and International Disaster Response Expo and which had previously invested in CloserStill Media from 2012 to 2015. It didn’t take long for Nineteen Group to get the ball rolling with the acquisition of Western Business Exhibitions, organiser of, among other shows, The Security Event at the NEC. EN decided it was time to head over to the London offices of Phoenix Equity and sit down with Nineteen Group CEO Peter Jones, group MD Alison Jackson, chairman Phil Soar and Phoenix Equity director Kevin Keck – mere hours before their first board meeting – to learn more about their plans for the future. Jones, who has spent years in the exhibition industry as a successful entrepreneur, described the journey into the world of private equity. PJ: In the last 16 years we’ve launched, built and sold. At the International Security Expo in 2017 we had a really busy show and we were approached by various buyers. I had discussion with Phil, who is my mentor and my chairman, and my wife about what I would do next if I were to sell. It had got to the point where ‘launch, build, sell’ wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to do again, after doing it multiple times. It was Phil who introduced me to the concept of private equity, I’ve never been down that path before. Let’s make no bones about it, launching a trade show is hard. It’s hard and it’s risky. I’ve launched and failed before and lost an awful lot of money. When you’re a small business you really lay it on the line – you lay your mortgage on the line and you lay your future on the line. You have to invest a lot (I call it investing, other people call it losing). You invest a lot of money in the first couple of years to get to the breakeven point. Having now been through the cycle quite a few times, I was in a position I didn’t really need to do that again. Phil introduced me to the private equity world. His famous words a year or so ago were, ‘go and talk to the private equity houses, and then do a deal with Phoenix Equity’. They’re great; they get it and they understand it. We’re in the earlier stages of building a big platform organisation; we’re at the concept phase and Phoenix have been there before. They’ve been looking for the next platform to invest in and then we came along. AJ: I’ve worked for lots of the big corporates as well as Montgomery, which is private. I’ve been approached a couple of times before March — 21