November 1996: Willowridge Grows with Secondary Market

In an era of billion-dollar secondary funds it’s easy to forget how small these funds once were. According to the November 25, 1996 issue of Buyouts, New York-based secondary buyer Willowridge Inc. had decided to raise $15 million for Amberbrook II, having finished investing its inaugural $5 million fund, Amberbrook LLC,

It would take a while, but the fund got raised. Willowridge closed the fund in September of 1997 with $19 million, almost 25% more than the initial goal, and more than three times the size of the inaugural fund. Today Willowridge still sits at the smaller end of the secondary market, but the smaller end of the secondary market now translates into the hundreds of millions of dollars under management. Amberbrook IV closed last year at $135 million, a pool that is now between 35% and 40% invested. Earlier, Willowridge raised and invested Amberbrook III, which closed in 2000 with $75 million.

Ten years ago, Willowridge was a limited partner in 26 buyout and venture capital funds. Today, that figure has grown to approximately 200 funds. When Buyouts reported on the Amberbrook II, Willowridge had just hired its second partner. The firm now has four: Founder and President Jerry Newman, whose experience prior to starting the firm including work for a family office and for a buyout firm; Luisa Hunnewell, a Chemical Bank veteran who joined in 1996; James O’Mara, who joined in 2002; and Michael Bego, a former Linux Global Partners executive who joined last year.

Along with managing his firm, Newman has been active lobbying Congress on behalf of the private equity secondary industry. In particular, he sprung into action not long ago when regulations in Provision 754 of the Internal Revenue Code threatened to impose expensive and extensive requirements on sellers of private equity assets. Willowridge and Boston’s HarbourVest Partners corralled support for the changes. PricewaterhouseCoopers lobbied on behalf of the group with the help of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA).

Other secondary buyers have also grown rapidly over the last decade. Lexington Partners raised Lexington Capital Partners I in 1996 with $242 million; earlier this year, it closed Lexington Capital Partners VI with $3.5 billion, the largest secondary fund ever.

Once the last refuge for investors looking to bolt from the asset class, the secondary market has become a standard part of the private equity industry and a tool for established investors to manage their portfolios. According to Paris-based secondary and private equity advisor Triago, the global market for private equity secondary deals was approximately $9.6 billion worth of commitments. last year and expected to increase in 2006. — M.S.