Tawfiq Popatia, Nigel Wright named co-heads of Onex’s flagship platform

Popatia, based in Onex’s Toronto office, joined in 2007 from Hellman & Friedman, while London-based Wright, who leads European origination, has been with the firm since 1997.

Onex picked two veteran investors to lead Onex Partners, the firm’s flagship platform for investing in mid-market and large-cap buyout deals.

Tawfiq Popatia and Nigel Wright were appointed co-heads of Onex Partners, CEO Bobby Le Blanc said in a year-end earnings call. The pair, “two of Onex’s most trusted and respected leaders,” assumed the jobs with the completion of Onex Partners V’s initial investing period, he said.

Popatia, based in the Toronto headquarters, joined in 2007 from Hellman & Friedman. Promoted to senior managing director in 2020, he focuses on investing in automation, aerospace and defense, and transportation and logistics sectors.

Tawfiq Popatia, Onex

Previously, Popatia worked in the investment banking division of Morgan Stanley and Morgan Stanley Asia Pacific.

Wright, who operates from the London office, has been with Onex since 1997, joining from Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg. He took a leave of absence from 2010 to 2014 to work as chief of staff for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

Also named senior managing director in 2020, Wright leads European origination and emphasizes business services, healthcare and packaging investing.

Nigel Wright, Onex

The promotions of Popatia and Wright follow a major Onex succession event. Last year, Le Blanc, who joined in 1999 from Berkshire Hathaway, was made top executive, replacing founder Gerry Schwartz, now chairman.

Le Blanc has in his brief tenure overseen a challenging period that included a pause in fundraising for Onex Partners VI. The decision was made, he said last May, to “allow us to focus on generating strong operating company value and realizations” in the portfolio until fundraising resumed.

Despite a brutal exit environment for private equity, Onex appears to have made progress on this front.

In the earnings call, Le Blanc reported “a productive year” for Onex Partners and ONCAP, a mid-market and small-cap buyout platform, citing realizations of $1.7 billion for the firm and LPs. Contributing to this was ONCAP’s sale of Hopkins Manufacturing, which earned a 5.1x gross multiple.

Completion of the sale of ASM Global by Onex and AEG will generate another $850 million, he said.

This process will continue, he said, as Onex looks to return additional capital to LPs. The new roles for Popatia and Wright support this objective, Le Blanc noted, as they allow him to devote “more of my time on ensuring operational excellence and the execution of strategic initiatives.”

While fundraising for Onex Partners VI is on pause, ONCAP V remains in the market with a target of $1.5 billion.