Whats in a Name?

The name is gone but the spirit remains.

When the partners of buyout shop CAI Managers & Co. started up 20 years ago, they had a nifty idea of what they wanted to name their new firm: Wyvern Partners.

Peter M. Gottsegen, a managing partner, said he’d always been captivated by the idea of the wyvern, a creature with the head of a dragon, the tail of a snake, two legs and two wings. A popular heraldic symbol from the medieval era, a wyvern is often depicted with its long, slithery tale wrapped around a gem or some kind of treasure, and that’s the image the firm wanted to project—of being a fierce, fire-breathing guardian of the cashbox.

“We figure we protect money for our investors, and our own [money] too, since we invest in our funds,” Gottsegen said. But Wyvern was already taken in Canada, where the mid-market specialist has completed two-thirds of its 21 deals.

So the firm set about with a different nomenclature strategy, one based on its geographic focus rather than mythology.

CAI Managers started out with the idea of establishing a significant presence in Canada, where private equity was a small piece of the economic puzzle in 1989. Partner Dick Schmeelk, a former bond expert with Solomon Brothers, brought with him a hefty Rolodex from years as a bond salesman for provincial and local governments in Canada. CAI Managers went on to establish offices in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Still, the home office is in New York, where the firm was born, and the partners had the idea of taking the name Canadian American Investors, reflecting its two-nation investment strategy.

But they encountered another problem. Laws in both countries made it extremely difficult to put the names of the nations on a company shingle. “For some arcane reason, you can’t use ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’ without some kind of approval,” Gottsegen said. “Anyway, we decided that CAI was easier to say.”

Easier to say, sure, but Gottsegen insists that even though the nameplate says CAI, the values of the wyvern lurk not far beneath. Indeed, Gottsegen keeps a statuette of the mythical creature on his desk as a reminder of the firm’s underlying spirit.