The inaugural Alternative Investments Conference (AICON 2023) hosted by SEO London took place on 23rd February. 

Of all the industry events I’ve attended in my 10+ years at PER, this conference had one of the most energetic and enthusiastic turnouts I’ve ever seen. 
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), although not the specific focus of the conference, was a topic the panels were naturally inclined to discuss. This may have been influenced by the host: SEO London focuses on improving access to professional opportunities for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. The charity appeared to have succeeded in its mission to widen access to exclusive conferences, as the room was packed with young professionals from a broad range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses.

Panel discussion topics included: opportunities and challenges facing private equity in 2023, navigating the tech landscape in the world of growth equity, and the approach of limited partners to asset allocation in the current market environment. The general consensus was that in spite of the obvious macro-economic and societal challenges facing private equity firms this year, the asset class is still in a strong position. After all, with trillions of dollars of dry powder and opportunities to invest in a landscape of softening prices and an opening credit market, who wouldn’t be optimistic?
What was also clear from every panel discussion was that a commitment to further the causes of DEI and ESG has become ingrained in the way that most alternatives investors run their businesses. One panellist from a large cap PE fund commented that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, emphasising the importance of achieving a diversity balance both in her own firm but also in the fund’s portfolio companies. An LP added that DEI had been in the collective awareness for long enough that if managers hadn’t made any progress on it already, they were likely to be left out of the portfolio in the next fundraising round.

Indeed, it was evident that LPs continue to drive the awareness around these topics. The panel acknowledged the challenges of establishing a fairer market, but they also recognised private equity managers’ particular ability to accelerate changes. As one director from an internationally recognised growth and buyout fund said, “PE investors come in and set the bar so high as to be almost unachievable, but in doing so we force others to push themselves as far as they can”.

The other particularly notable moment in the day came during an enlivening fireside chat between Nic Humphries from Hg Capital and Lynn Akashi from Zetland Capital, where they shared personal stories about their backgrounds and the obstacles they have overcome to build their careers. As industry veterans, they added an important perspective to the conversations about diversity and inclusion, reminding the largely young audience that opportunities are out there and you don’t have to be born with the lucky lottery ticket to “make it”.

You just need to be ready to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.

Richard Jones
COO & Head of Talent Acquisition and Development