Off-duty: Searchlight’s Erol Uzumeri on being a coffee fanatic, Pilates and eggplant

Uzumeri tells us about his dream job as a coffee shop owner, his 'happy place' in Turkey and the value of surrounding oneself with talented people.

Erol Uzumeri, Searchlight Capital

Buyouts’ Off-duty provides a snapshot of top investors, including a few details about what they do when not chasing deals.

Erol Uzumeri, co-founder of Searchlight Capital, got his first taste of capital markets as an ambitious high school student. He took a summer job with Manulife, “opening my eyes to the world of investment and finance,” he told Buyouts.

Uzumeri next worked at Citigroup, and in 1998, while studying at London Business School, moved over to CVC International, where he became an investment executive focused on wireless and fiber sectors. At this stage, he said, “I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

In 2003, Uzumeri joined Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to build out its private equity business. Four years later, he was named head of Teachers’ Private Capital.

The genesis of Searchlight, a $14.1 billion, all-weather investor in transatlantic companies, was a dinner attended by Uzumeri and fellow co-founders Oliver Haarmann, an ex-senior partner with KKR, and Eric Zinterhofer, an ex-senior partner with Apollo. Ending with “a handshake,” he said, it prompted the firm’s 2010 launch.

Married and a father of two, Uzumeri has for many years been a director of the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Where is your hometown?

Toronto, Ontario.

If you weren’t in PE, what job would you like to have?

I’m a true coffee fanatic, so I’d love to own a boutique coffee shop. Regardless of where I’m traveling in the world, I’m seeking out an independent coffee shop, hunting for the best coffee.

How do you relax when you’re not working?

Enjoying a meal with my family at home or when I can be active – playing tennis, doing yoga or surfing on vacation. My wife has introduced me to Pilates recently, which I very much enjoy but am admittedly terrible at!

What book are you reading right now?

I just started The Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes. I’ve been waiting 10 years for it to come out after loving his first book I Am Pilgrim.

What is your favorite song, album, performer or music genre?

I enjoy a pretty broad spectrum of music. Bruno Mars or Lenny Kravitz are two of my favorites.

What is your favorite place for a vacation, sanctuary or to explore? 

I’ve gone to Bodrum, Turkey, with my family every summer for the last 25 years. We started going when we were living in London and we have made such great memories there. It’s definitely my happy place.

What is your favorite meal, recipe, cocktail or bottle of wine?

Eggplant, five different ways. Whenever we go to Turkey, this is always my first meal.

Who in your career do you regard as a mentor?

I admire Claude Lamoureux, the first CEO of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. He was a true visionary and he taught me a lot about leadership, investing and management.

Professionally, what was your toughest moment?

As the head of private equity at Ontario Teachers’ navigating the global financial crisis. Managing my team, the plan and our investments through these challenges taught me how to rally a team together, even in the most difficult of market circumstances.

What was your most rewarding moment?

Building Searchlight! It is truly rewarding at an AGM or offsite to see the team come together and be able to reflect on how we started as three founders and now have an impressive team of 130 talented and committed professionals.

What PE buzz words or jargon do you hate most?

“Top quartile.”

What advice would you give a young person interested in a PE career?

Play the long game and don’t focus on short-term setbacks or challenges. Ideally work with talented people that provide a platform to learn, build your technical capabilities and grow your business network.

It is said often, but surrounding yourself with smart and talented people will make all the difference in your career.

What word or phrase best describes you?