Sir Gerry Robinson: ‘critical deadlines are coming’

In an exclusive interview with Infrastructure Investor, leading businessman Sir Gerry Robinson said that owners of infrastructure assets will be ‘forced to confront reality’ as a refinancing wall looms. Robinson recently joined start-up fund manager Ancala Partners as a founding partner.

Sir Gerry Robinson told Infrastructure Investor he believes Ancala Partners – the infrastructure fund manager he joined recently as a founding partner – is strongly positioned to take advantage of opportunities arising from the so-called “refinancing wall”.

“We know that critical deadlines are coming and owners of businesses will be forced to confront reality,” he said. “And we’ll develop our proposed solution and position ourselves as those deadlines approach. We know the stakeholders and the companies well and can cherry-pick the good opportunities.”

Ancala is a London-based start-up fund manager which was recently launched by former Macquarie Capital European debt advisory veteran Spence Clunie. The firm is looking to raise up to €500 million for an equity fund that will seek to address the funding needs of infrastructure and essential services businesses that require refinancing. It is also looking for co-investors for individual transactions. 

Robinson acknowledged it has been a tough period for management teams. “They thought there would be a big reward at some point and now there won’t be. It’s hard to go back to the starting position. When there’s a default or refinancing looming, that’s when the psychology changes in terms of admitting what your asset is really worth. It’s a bit like what happened in the housing market.”

But Robinson said that, for companies with strained finances, Ancala would offer “balanced financing” and “strong management”, which would play a part in “getting these companies out of a hole and back to where they should be”.

Asked whether the fund was essentially opportunistic in nature given that much of the required refinancing will probably take place over the next few years, Robinson replied: “The pipeline is stronger now and for the next three years than perhaps it will be in five years’ time. But this type of opportunity will always apply. There are always capital-constrained businesses or those with inefficient financing. The characteristics of our fundamental strategy will not change.”

Irish-born Robinson, 62, boasts a weighty CV of prominent UK corporate roles, including: finance director and sales and marketing director of Coca Cola UK; chairman and chief executive of media firm Granada;  and the chairmanships of drinks giant Allied Domecq and media heavyweights ITN and BSkyB. He also led the management buyout of the contract services division of Compass from leisure business Grand Metropolitan in what was then the largest such deal ever. 

He has also developed a career as a presenter of business-related television programmes such as “Gerry’s Big Decision”, in which struggling businesses attempt to persuade him that they merit investment.

*The full keynote interview with Sir Gerry Robinson and Spence Clunie can be found in the upcoming May 2011 issue of Infrastructure Investor.