Private equity’s expansion outside of North America has been brisk. The European markets were quick to catch on in the early 1990s, and more recently the Asian markets have stepped up their private equity investment pace. To capitalize on the rising tide that is now gripping the region, Hamilton Lane has opened up a new Singapore-based subsidiary, Hamilton Lane Pte Ltd.
To head up the office, the investment consulting firm tapped Alain Vandenborre as a director in charge of spearheading the firm’s business development activities in Southeast Asia. Vanderborre comes to Hamilton Lane from Vivendi Universal, where he served as the executive director and chief financial officer in the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to that, Vandenborre was the head of international development at the Suez Group. Additionally, Vandenborre currently serves as executive director of the Singapore Venture Capital Association and as co-chairman of the Asia Pacific Venture Capital Alliance.
“There’s been a trend toward globalization in private equity,” said Hamilton Lane Chief Executive Mario Giannini. “There’s definitely a developing investment opportunity set, and we’ve seen growth in the amount of capital that’s moving into Asia. [The Singapore office] has been something we’ve been looking at for some time.”
He added that Singapore’s location represents for Hamilton Lane “a nexus to everything that’s going on in the Southeast-Asia region, and a location that [the firm] felt had a lot of potential financial and LP clients.”
The new office doesn’t necessarily represent a move for the firm to diversify its customer base. Hamilton Lane already has a substantial group of clients based in Asia, and the expansion serves more as an effort to establish a presence in the region and position itself to achieve greater access to the burgeoning market and its constituents.
More Alike Than Different
From Giannini’s perspective, the firm will not have to alter its strategy in order to be successful, as the Asian institutional investor community does not differ all that much from its U.S. counterpart. “We certainly don’t see any differences in the level of sophistication [among LPs]…The institutions that invest in private equity are comparable to those that invest in the space in the U.S.,” said Giannini. However, he does note, “Their pension funds are different and clearly have different structures that vary from country to country.”
The increased attention Asia is receiving-at least from the private equity community-is reflected in the number of U.S. buyout shops that have stepped up their efforts there. Ripplewood Holdings, Newbridge Capital, W.L. Ross & Co., The Carlyle Group and Cerberus Capital Management are just a few of the U.S. firms to have established a strong presence in Asia.
M&A advisor Barrington Associates, meanwhile, is following the queue over as well, and has recently opened up an office in China. “We’re seeing more and more interest from private equity groups to deploy their capital in Asia,” Barrington Managing Director James Freedman said. “Up until now it has been fairly difficult to invest in Asian companies, because of the difficult corporate securities laws. But there has been tremendous progress in the last year, and reforms in these laws have made the region more appealing. In the next five years we expect to see an enormous sea change in the amount of private equity going into Asia.”
Giannini, meanwhile, also credited the Asian capital market’s growth for the rise in private equity. “There’s been some growth in the liquidity of the Asian capital base, and as that increases and the amount of capital available to institutions grows, investors start to look into other asset classes such as private equity.”
And Then There Were Three
The Singapore office will be Hamilton Lane’s third location, branching out from its existing headquarters in Philadelphia and a location in London. As of right now, Vandenborre is the lone body in the office, but the firm intends to add up to five more people, and will likely recruit local employees to help establish a regional perspective. Also on Hamilton Lane’s docket, the firm plans on opening a West Coast office in the U.S., although that move is not expected to occur for another six to 12 months.
Hamilton Lane, founded in 1991, provides clients with full-service private-equity investment management, advisory and consulting services. The firm made news at the start of this year, when it sold 40% of the company to outside investors, including CSFB Veteran Hartley Rogers, now the vice chairman of Hamilton Lane, the Bill Gates-funded Cascade Investments, ex-Morgan Stanley Managing Director O. Griffith Sexton and select Hamilton Lane employees.