Five Questions with Anna Maria Nekoranec of Align Private Capital

  • Why this is important: Family office networks often have proprietary deal flows that benefit its members
  • Whom to contact: Anna Maria Nekoranec []

Anna Maria Nekoranec and Robert Blabey co-founded Align Private Capital in 2014 to make discretionary direct investments on behalf of family offices, and to connect families on transactions. Align also manages investment portfolios for its family-office clients. Previously Nekoranec founded LBK Capital, which co-managed private portfolios with families and worked with families on direct transactions. Blabey is former chief investment officer for the Collier family.

How do you work on transactions?

Central to everything that we do is our focus on family-to-family transactions or partnerships. We have made investments with families who are experts in a specific industry. We have also brought families who are industry experts into our proprietary transactions.

All of our deal flow is proprietary and comes from referrals or families in our network. We frequently look at bespoke opportunities and see transactions before they formally go to market. We currently do not participate in any groups that share deal flow or information.

For instance, when we first launched, a multibillion-dollar family approached us, wanting to find an expert who could help them short the Chinese currency. While we did not have someone in-house who had this capability, we referred them to an expert within our network. They were thrilled with the result and told us that they had learned more in 45 minutes with our expert than over a six-week period of interaction with some of the large financial firms.

Give us an example of a recent transaction

One transaction that is illustrative of what we do is our investment in Blue Water Worldwide. We invested in the company and also got other family offices to participate in the investment.

BWW is a Berkshire Hathaway-like holding company focused on investments in real assets. BWW was founded by Benji Griswold and William Whitridge, who are members of the family that founded Alex. Brown and Sons.

The holding company has three platform investments: One in the U.S. aggregates space, one in class A warehousing in Buenos Aires and one in electrical transmission in Peru.

In each platform investment, BWW either partnered with a family that had extensive knowledge of the sector or had in-house industry experience.

For example, in the aggregates space, BWW partnered with the Baker family who founded Florida Rock in the 1920s and had a very successful exit in the mid-2000s. The results speak for themselves and are an example of the power of long-term compounding.

Which sectors and geographies do you invest in?

We are sector-agnostic. We seek market dislocations, market mispricing and long-term growth opportunities. We have deployed capital into real assets and are currently looking at opportunities in the healthcare-services and financial-services space. While our primary focus is the U.S., we have also deployed capital in South America.

We generally look at transactions requiring an equity check of $10 million to $240 million. We partner with other families at the higher end of the range. We will look at minority positions, but those are generally with partners who are known to us and those require supermajority rights.

What makes you an investment partner of choice?

Align Capital works with single-family offices and UHNW individuals in several different ways. We analyze investment portfolios, help construct investment portfolios based on the family’s needs, and connect families with direct investments. Our focus is on alternatives like private equity and other illiquid investments.

We also help entrepreneurs access long-term patient capital, and with extraordinary market insight through our network of ultra-high-net-worth families. In addition, Align has flexible capital and can invest across the capital stack. We can provide mezzanine or equity financing.

We have an extensive network of over 130 families that we draw on for deals and expertise.

How has the family office environment changed over the years?

The wealth that has been created over the last few decades has fueled the growth of the family office in the U.S. and abroad. These organizations are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and demonstrating a growing appetite for direct transactions. This has been driven by a combination of a lack of tolerance for high fee structures in the private equity world, a lack of interest in blind-pool investing, tax-inefficient structures — some families would prefer to let their investments continue to compound rather than to exit and pay taxes — and, in some cases, subpar returns. The larger families have also come to the realization that they have sufficient capital to do this themselves.