Hiring Circle meets Nuala Higgins, Head of International Private Equity Coverage
Nuala Higgins discusses Private Equity, the pre-IPO market and life at Carnegie and in the Nordics.
Nuala Higgins is currently Head of Private Equity Coverage at Carnegie Investment Bank in Stockholm. Originally from Ireland, she spent her early career in London before moving to Stockholm 11 years ago. As well as discussing the pre-IPO market and working in the Nordics, here she talks to Hiring Circle's Georgie Banfield about what she loves about coverage, Carnegie and the incredible entrepreneurial culture in Stockholm.
Nuala, please tell me more about your current role at Carnegie.
I'm currently Head of Private Equity Coverage at Carnegie Investment Bank and am based in Sweden. I'm responsible for covering anything with a Private Equity angle across the four local countries in the Nordics. No other Nordic bank has a Private Equity coverage team solely dedicated to covering Private Equity clients so we provide a unique service to sponsors. I really enjoy the opportunity which that affords me in terms of pitching with other countries and interacting with international and Nordic funds. I love working with people across different geographies and different Carnegie sector teams and pulling it all together.
Carnegie has recently been ranked number 1 across all service lines (investment banking, private banking, research and securities). Tell me more about the business and what is it like as a place to work?
Yes, Carnegie is the leading Nordic bank. It was founded in 1803 by a Scot called David Carnegie, originally as a trading house. It’s a really interesting company because of its roots and has quite a conservative background. The business started to excel in the 1900’s in ECM – the key activity was not M&A – that came later and the investment bank has gone from strength to strength. Today Carnegie is ranked number 1 in M&A by its clients and Carnegie has just been awarded M&A advisor of the year 2020. We’ve got a really impressive M&A and ECM track record and were ranked no.1 in Europe above GS and MS in ECM transactions in 2020.
"You can excel at your job but what makes the difference is when you’re a team player and a likeable person too. It’s not just a good team, it’s a great team – it’s the whole package..."
In terms of working here, we’ve got a great, prestigious team; they excel at what they do and crucially are nice people. You can excel at your job but what makes the difference is when you’re a team player and a likeable person too. It’s not just a good team, it’s a great team – it’s the whole package, and this is really evidenced by the fact that our clients keep coming back to us. We are the trusted advisor of the Nordics – most clients won’t do an IPO without Carnegie. We have the number 1 IPO track record in the Nordics, which is double the number of IPOs compared to the number 2 in the market. But we do lots of private placements too.
Tell me more about Carnegie’s involvement in private placements and the pre-IPO market in the Nordics.
Instead of raising equity finance via private equity or an Initial Public Offering we can help our client’s with pre-IPO finance / private placements for companies that are intended for the stock exchange. Essentially this is where securities are released for sale to accredited investors – private equity firms, private investors and pension funds. Entrepreneurs seek a pre-IPO round as an alternative option to debt finance and a stepping stone to listing their businesses.
"Rather than selling their company to private equity and walking away with the cash, this is not necessarily the desire in the Nordics – they want to see their company up in lights. It’s the Holy Grail".
In the UK the culture and attitude of entrepreneurs is quite different to here in the Nordics. Rather than selling their company to private equity and walking away with the cash, this is not necessarily the desire in the Nordics – they want to see their company up in lights. It’s the Holy Grail. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Also, entrepreneurs are not always interested in selling to PE as they don’t want debt but rather they want capital for financing bolt-ons, for acquiring new businesses, expanding etc. so opt for pre-IPO and private placements.
Why are pre-IPO’s such a successful business stream for Carnegie?
If we do one private-placement we usually do another before finally carrying out an IPO and then after that we continue to advise the listed company – it makes sense as this is a recurring revenue stream. We also help with debt financing – we have a bond team and debt advisory team if the company needs to raise debt etc so we can offer the full package of services. From our perspective, if you sell to PE you don’t usually see that company again until the sell-side mandate comes up and even then you are not guaranteed to win the pitch. Clients tend to be more “sticky” after you have helped them with pre-IPO financing.
We also keep in touch with them by presenting them at Carnegie non-deal road shows so we are continually marketing the business to bring in new investors. For example, we hosted a “digital summit” in early January – there were lots of high growth digital companies presenting – it’s a good way to market these opportunities. It’s not a surprise that many of the businesses were in healthcare software, fintech, diagnostics - all companies growing and even helped by Covid. There was also a business developing autonomous driving trucks! We invited PE clients too - some may do pre-IPO’s depending on the case.
Which investors tend to be most interested in private placements and does this tend to include private equity?
Some funds that do pre-IPO’s here include CPP, GIC, Ontario, Temasek, as well as some family offices – it’s my job to bring in different groups of financial sponsors. Historically pre-IPO’s haven’t been the bread-and-butter of mainstream PE firms, and that’s mainly down to the LPs and what they’ve agreed to invest in their strategy. Historically this hasn’t included pre-IPO’s. Having said this, I know of a number of cases where the PE firm has gone to the LP’s to develop the case for it and I know of at least one case where they have started a new fund just to do the private placement deal! I'm definitely seeing a change towards these kinds of deals.
You’re originally from Ireland, you spent your early career in London, and then you moved to Stockholm. Tell me more about why you moved to Stockholm and what has made you stay.
Well, my husband is Swedish so that was one reason to move back to his home country 11 years ago.
But also working in Nordics is lots of fun - they run processes differently here and the cultures and industries are different to London.
In particular one thing that I have discovered since being here is that the level of entrepreneurship is amazing – it’s actually stunned me! There are so many innovative people, risk takers, fantastic ideas and in Sweden in particular – it’s full of entrepreneurs.
Industries that are currently doing really well are clean tech, self-driving cars, game development; Did you know that the games Battlefield and Candycrush were actually developed in Sweden? They became global really quickly and are business models that are really appealing as a banker. Meeting entrepreneurs and interesting companies is the bit I enjoy a lot – it’s exciting.
"Despite Carnegie being the biggest bank in the Nordics working on huge deals, – we never forget the small guys".
I love the fact that Carnegie continually support entrepreneurs - we host "Future Entrepreneur of the Year" where exciting new businesses are invited to present to the "jury" of PE/VC’s and they vote for their favourites. These are not companies that Carnegie will work with (yet) but rather investment opportunities for private banking clients. Often their financing needs are too small for Investment Banking, but we want to support them and follow them. Despite Carnegie being the biggest bank in the Nordics working on huge deals, – we never forget the small guys. Something may be a small idea now, but in 5 years…hey presto! We hold a pre-IPO seminar and they are back!
How has Covid affected the Carnegie as a business?
Covid has made us find other ways to work and we’ve thought of different ways to do business. Despite the pandemic we have seen lots of listings and we are the only bank in Stockholm hiring at the moment.
During Covid, Carnegie have adapted well – we didn’t stop at all – we continued bringing ideas to clients virtually, sending out newsletters, marketing deals – and business kept coming in. 2019 was our highest ever fee earning year, and 2020 topped this. And we’ve got a great pipeline for 2021, so we are very positive about the future.