What’s In A Name: HarbourVest Partners

In the world of private equity, as in much of the business world, new firms and companies often struggle to find a new identity when they transition out of old institutions and become independent. The partners who founded fund-of-funds manager and secondary buyer HarbourVest Partners faced such a challenge.

HarbourVest was founded in 1997 when Hancock Venture Partners, itself started 15 years earlier, spun out of John Hancock Insurance and Financial Services. The partners had no name chosen, and so they simply called themselves by their old initials, HVP, as a placeholder.

After several months of using the HVP abbreviation for the yet-to-be-named independent firm, the partners decided that they still wanted a new name, but didn’t want to lose touch with their initials. Working backwords from the intitials to a name, they decided that they wanted to have the H stand for “Harbour,” because two of the firm’s offices, in Boston and Hong Kong, overlooked harbors. (They settled on the European English spelling of “Harbour” to accentuate the firm’s international operations.”

About this time, Managing Director Brooks Zug visited Martha’s Vineyard and dined at a restaurant in the Harbor View Hotel. Inspired, he returned to the office with the idea of calling the firm Harbour View Partners. Uhhhhhm, no. The idea was rejected by the others as sounding too much like a restaurant or a hotel.

The partners cannot seem to remember who, but someone then suggested that the firm be called HarbourVest Partners. There were several other firms that had taken ‘Vest’ as part of their name, and the firm decided that it could work for them. The firm continues to spell its name with a capital V, echoing the original HVP initials.

Presumably because of more than its name, limited partners have committed more than $10 billion to funds of funds managed by HarbourVest over the years. The firm has also been a secondary buyer since 1986, spending more than $3.4 billion in interests in already-raised funds. The firm has the flexibility to buy interests in funds worth as little as $1 million all the way up to portfolios with a value of more than $1 billion. — M.S.