Plural private equity chair Adrian Ringrose talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about managing people, asking questions and providing support
Adrian Ringrose likes to do things early. At the age of 36 he became the youngest ever CEO of a FTSE company when he was appointed to the role at Interserve, a diversified support services and construction business. Then at the age of 49, having done 14 years at the helm, he decided to step away from executive life to become a plural Chair of PE-backed businesses.
He says: “I very much enjoy the cut and thrust of business, I love being part of a team and seeing its success, and it seemed like a natural evolution.”
Adrian took an unusual route to the top, studying politics at university and then working in market research and business analysis before moving into management. It has given him an enduring interest in people and what makes them tick, something that he is finding extremely useful as a Chair.
He says: “My interest in business is really around people management. As a general manager and then as a CEO and certainly as a Chair now, a lot of my thinking in business situations is around the people and the leadership team, the relationships they have with each other and the relationships between the company and the investment firm that is backing it. I think the Chair is integral to trying to make those relationships work as best they can.”
This is particularly important in terms of managing the relationship between the PE house and management team, Adrian says: “It is important to make sure people actually understand each other because it is amazing how much mis-communication can go on, particularly in businesses where it might be the first time they have had external investment so there is a whole new lexicon of language, governance and measurement to understand. Communication is absolutely core to that. It is about making sure that we are actually on the same page because it is amazing how often that isn’t the case.”
Another key task is to provide support for the CEO, he says: “My role is to help the CEO focus in on the things that really matter. I was on the receiving end of that sort of great advice and support myself over the years and appreciated just how important and valuable it is. The CEO role can be a lonely one, because you are in charge and are expected to have all the answers and a good Chair provides a confidential safe place to have open discussions.”
He adds: “Having the ability to listen and not necessarily to judge, and to ask open questions, is important. The CEO is doing a big job and has got a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. My job is to be very connected to what they are doing and to understand their agenda, but to be detached enough to help them see the wood from the trees.”
Adrian brings other useful traits to the Chair role. He says: “I am a natural enthusiast and that helps in a environment where you are trying to push the boundaries and grow the business beyond where it has been historically. I have also made lots of mistakes and I think it is important to be able to share your knowledge and experience of what has gone wrong as well as what has gone right.”
Adrian is currently Chair of four PE-backed businesses – Taziker, a structures and coatings business; Warwick Estates, a property management firm; Act Cleaning, a specialist outsourcing firm; and Churches Fire Security, a fire protection firm - as well as being Chair of an angel investor-backed business.
His new direction clearly suits him. He says: “One of the things I really like about private equity is the alignment of interests and the common definition of what success looks like. The simplicity and clarity that brings, along with short communication channels and decision making, is really healthy.”
Drax sector lead: Rob Lanham
Tel: 0203 949 9563