“Entrepreneurs need tenacity, patience and realism”, says David Giampaolo. And one of these qualities was in evidence when he came to the UK from the US to set up the first in a planned chain of fitness clubs in 1998. “We wrote to the Buckingham Palace and asked of Princess Diana would come and open the first gym”, he says. “To our amazement, she did”. The resulting publicity helped the business become a massive success for Giampaolo – he sold it six years later for £840 million.
Giampaolo got into the fitness business because he was a fitness enthusiast. One day, while at his gym in the US, he wondered whether the place couldn’t be done a whole lot better than it was and, speaking his thoughts out loud, turned to fellow gym-goers. The two, who were doctors, said to Giampaolo if he had the energy to do it, they had money to invest. It was the start of a lifetime love affair with private equity.
Today, American Giampaolo is chief executive of Pi Capital, a private equity firm he led the acquisition of in 2002. It invests in profitable company requiring between £2m and £5m of equity. Pi capital is also a network of successful and influential business people, who between them sit on more than 600 company boards. Members are based in Europe, the US and Asia and the esstimated investment firepower of Pi members is put at up to £10bn.
It all puts Giampaolo in a rare position. Not only has he been a successful entrepreneur in his own right, he now knowa some of the brightest entrepreneurial and business talent there is and is constantly on the lookout for up-and-coming businesses n which he and his associates can invest. He knows all about risk, failure, hard work and luck, admits the he could easily fill 24 hours a day working if it was physically possible and that he struggles sometimes to switch off (his tip: go to the cinema).
Seeing up to 100 business plans a month on the hunt for investment also means that he understands what makes a successful company. “Management. They need to be hungry, passionate, smart, humble and want to offer a world-class product or service that is needed or better than what is on offer.” He looks at manager’s reputations, their goals, even their marital status. “If someone isn’t optimist in life they will find it hard to succeed in business”, he says. “But of course there are degrees of optimism.”
Being a successful entrepreneur, according to Giampaolo, requires the skills of a world-class plate spinner. He says: “It’s good to have lots of plates spinning. It creates optimality. It means you have options. A lot of the most outstanding entrepreneurs will appear as though the are putting the farm on a deal but you can bet they have a Plan B ans C if things go wrong. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, yes, but it is very calculated”.
Giampaolo gets and interesting insight into entrepreneurs as a breed and says he sees common traits: “Of course, there are big exceptions, but they have less formal education than you would expect, many have suffered a family incident, either bereavement or divorce, there is a correlation of ten between the person and being good at sport, they are risk takers and the are prepared to make sacrifices – mainly, sadly, in terms of relationships or their own health. Great entrepreneurs wake up in the morning and say “it’s not working, let’s change it”. They don’t whine or give up.
He is at pains to stress how he does not consider himself as success. “I’am humble. I want to be remembered as a good father, a goodman, rather than anything to do with money”, he says. With mates worth £10bn, that could be tricky.