Direct deals are raising the public profile of family offices

Greybull's acquisition of a steel plant in the UK has raised its profile  Photo: Wikimedia, Jesper Schoen 

Greybull's acquisition of a steel plant in the UK has raised its profile  Photo: Wikimedia, Jesper Schoen 

No one outside of the select world of London’s West End's exclusive financial boutiques had heard of Greybull Capital a few years ago, but now it’s become one of the best known private investment offices anywhere.

Greybull, a family office run by members of the Meyohas family with support from a member of a wealthy Swedish family called the Perlhagens, recently hit the headlines for buying a struggling UK steelworks from Tata Steel of India. Given the number of jobs the deal was saving and the strategic importance of the steel industry in the UK, Greybull was thrust into the public arena more than it probably imagined. Although it wasn’t without some previous experience of the public limelight. Two years ago Greybull was involved in a deal to buy 90% of UK airline Monarch and it has also acquired 140 supermarkets from the UK supermarket chain WM Morrison.

Greybull hired a top public relations firm to deal with the scrutiny it’s getting from its dealmaking - other family offices will probably do the same as they acquire big stakes in global businesses

Big acquisitions of companies like the Greybull deals are raising the public profile of single-family offices - maybe more than many of them would like. The profile of Hillspire, Eric Schmidt’s family office, grew when it took a 20% stake in the investment management group D.E. Shaw in 2015. Cascade Investment, the family office of the Gates family, has gradually become better known as its stakes in some big companies like Berkshire Hathaway has been revealed. Cascade’s shareholder activism towards its holding in the Swiss company Sika has also raised its profile.

Wildcat Capital Management, the family office of David Bonderman, the founding partner of the private equity firm TPG Capital, gained media attention when it sent a letter to the board of directors of Sorrento Therapeutics demanding corporate governance reforms.

Direct deals and corporate activism like the above will continue to erode the mystique around single-family offices and the role they have in global capital flows will come under greater scrutiny. As Family Capital said a few weeks ago, greater transparency and scrutiny of family offices is inevitable and they are likely to hire public relations firms to management their reputation. So its hardly surprising that Greybull hired a top public relations firm to deal with the scrutiny it’s getting from its dealmaking - other family offices will probably do the same as they acquire big stakes in global businesses.