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Private Equity Value Creation

When it comes to private equity investing, in particular, growth equity and buyout investing, Value Creation is a commonly used term. For these private equity fund strategies, general partners (GPs) usually deploy an approach that involves “hands-on” engagement to achieve value-add or value creation.

This means the GP works closely with the portfolio company and its management team to make the necessary changes to improve the company’s revenue and operating efficiency (i.e. operating profit), with the end result of creating tangible value to the company and its investors. This created value is tangible because private equity value creation is something that you can and should measure, as discussed below.

In fact, the GP may employ an external Operating Partner to embed into the company as a full-time team member and help implement the changes to create value. These changes, or “operational improvements” as they are also commonly referred to, can include:

  • Rolling out new sales and marketing initiatives;

  • Penetrating new markets to grow the customer base;

  • Leveraging potential synergies with the GP’s other portfolio companies, customers, suppliers and vendors;

  • Streamlining existing or establishing new business, management and manufacturing processes;

  • On-boarding new departments, team members and equipment;

  • Developing new products and service offerings for customers;

  • Or even going back to the drawing board to revamp the company’s business model.

The GP, its Operating Partner and the Management Team play crucial interrelated roles in developing the company to jointly create value.

Private Equity Value Creation is About Growing Companies

Private equity sometimes earns a poor reputation because of a historic perception of cutting costs including laying off workers and staff, to improve profits. This is an extremely limited view and modern private equity is more focused on growth, including hiring new talent, developing new products and services, expanding production facilities and the workforce, and growing the company’s footprint and the business as a whole.

Making these operational improvements to create value requires capital investment and expertise, and that’s where private equity, GPs, and indirectly LPs, come into play; because your average small, medium or even large-sized company, many of which are family-owned, may well have extensive experience in its particular industry or business, but would not have the know-how or resources to make these types of operational improvements. The private equity value creation process is about growing and making existing companies better.

Why is Value Creation so important?

Private equity investment strategies that have a defined approach to value creation are important because making operational improvements to portfolio companies and then selling them at a higher intrinsic value for investment returns is a more durable and robust strategy than the alternative: relying on clever deal structuring, financial engineering (leverage), and/or multiple arbitrage (buy low, sell high).

Under certain market or business conditions, these latter techniques may generate attractive returns, but if pre-investment assumptions do not go according to plan, then the likelihood of achieving the target return diminishes. Due to the illiquid nature of the private equity asset class, investment returns should not rely on mathematical probabilities of assumptions and scenarios materializing.

In contrast, a strong and healthy portfolio company that has come out of the other end of private equity value creation can command a higher exit value even if the market is on a down-cycle. Or alternatively, the GP could also postpone divestment until market conditions are more conducive, without fear of the portfolio company imploding.

Tangible Drivers of Private Equity Value Creation

The operational improvements described above ultimately materialize in the form of top-line revenue growth and higher operating margins that translate into stronger operating profit, which is usually measured in EBITDA. Private equity value creation as an analysis is commonly expressed in terms of company enterprise value, or the overall value of the company and the key drivers of enterprise value in a value creation context are revenue growth, (EBITDA) margin expansion and multiple expansion.

While the first two terms are self-explanatory, the latter relates to EBITDA valuation multiples, or purchase multiples, and reflects the change in the EBITDA valuation multiple between at the time of initial investment and at the time of divestment (or the most recent reporting period if the company is unrealized from the GP’s fund portfolio).

Since private companies are valued at a multiple of their EBITDA, for example, 8 times trailing-twelve-month (TTM) EBITDA, then a company generating $12 million of TTM EBITDA would have an enterprise value of $96 million. To determine the contribution of EBITDA multiple fluctuations on enterprise value for a value creation analysis, we can hold the entry EBITDA constant and multiply it by the change in EBITDA multiple between entry and exit to calculate the corresponding change in enterprise value due to this EBITDA multiple impact.

The calculations for determining the impact of revenue growth and EBITDA margin expansion on enterprise value are similar: calculate the change in revenue and EBITDA margin, while holding the other corresponding parameters constant, to derive the equivalent enterprise value contribution components for these two drivers.

→ Related reading: How to measure private equity returns.

Value Creation based on EBITDA

What is Leverage Effect?

Now let’s sidetrack for a moment: there is a common misconception that the debt applied on a private equity deal would have a leverage effect on the enterprise value creation, but in fact, the leverage effect only has an impact on a portfolio company’s equity value.

A private equity fund can acquire a company for $100 million consisting of $30 million of equity from the fund and the remaining $70 million financed with external debt. After servicing half of the debt and then selling the company a few years later at the exact same $100 million price tag, the fund can retire the last $35 million of debt from the sale amount and the resulting $65 million balance is equity, which equates to a 2.2x return on equity for the fund.

Despite selling the company at the same price as the initial purchase price, the investment return was more than double the private equity fund’s equity investment of $30 million! Now imagine if the exit valuation was even higher than $100 million; but, also imagine if the exit valuation was much lower than $100 million and yet the debt still needs to be retired. That is the leverage effect!

Financing Structure at Entry by Investment Year

Value Creation Bridge and its Interpretation

A value creation bridge, also commonly referred to as the value creation step-chart, is a visualization of the analysis described above and it provides a clear view of the main drivers of enterprise value creation. If the investment strategy involved operational improvements and these worked out well for the portfolio company, then the two “steps” for revenue growth and margin expansion would be the largest steps shown on the bridge.

Conversely, if valuation multiple fluctuation provided the highest contribution to enterprise value, then this too would be represented on the value creation bridge. Investors are increasingly cognizant of the underlying operating performance of portfolio companies and performing value creation analysis to understand the drivers of investment returns.

Private equity value creation with CEPRES

CEPRES is an innovative private markets analytics platform that has a powerful built-in value creation feature that allows investors to directly access the value creation bridge without having to perform the tedious calculations described above. So whether it’s for one single portfolio company, a portfolio, or a particular market segment that you’ve defined for your analysis, it’s easy to understand value creation.

To see how Value Creation is measured for your own portfolio or GPs you are screening for commitments register or login to your CEPRES account:

Register on CEPRES. Already a user? Login here.

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