Transforming Manchester into a dealmaking hotspot

Phil Adams, Global Head of Technology and Co-Head UK Corporate Finance, Houlihan Lokey

Phil Adams

It has been an extraordinary and uncertain two years for businesses and individuals alike.

Given the current wave of Omicron infections, we are definitely not out of the woods yet, but the M&A world has shown remarkable resilience throughout the pandemic underpinned by massive appetite in the market for new investments and innovation which has led to record breaking M&A activity for us as a business.

But, if we look beyond the COVID-19 period, it is important to recognise the growth journey that the North West – Manchester in particular – has been on, and reflect on the progress we’ve made in attracting talent and scaling innovative businesses.

Before we became Houlihan Lokey, GCA Altium established a Manchester base 25 years ago in 1996 and I was lucky enough to be hired as the first junior employee.

At this time the corporate finance community was relatively parochial, dominated by the Big Four and Rothschild and deals were, on average, much smaller. There were few meaningful private equity houses focusing on the region which limited access to capital. There was also a very strong perception that London was the only place to be, which led to a constant ‘brain drain’.

Fast forward 25 years and the North West boasts the strongest corporate finance and private equity community outside of London, which reflects the quality of the businesses in the region.

The vast majority of the leading mid-market PE investors have offices in Manchester and those that don’t make regular visits to the region hunting for deals. Manchester is now a much more attractive place to live, work and, with the quality of our universities, it also appeals to students from around the world.

Historically, we saw young people relocating to London post-graduation, but with the city having much more to offer now, many now want to stay in Manchester, resulting in more entrepreneurs and, ultimately, more businesses being created here.

Euro Garages

We now have a long list of success stories and brilliant leaders in the region with companies like B&M, Timpsons, Matillion, Radius, Bruntwood, Euro Garages and many others all achieving phenomenal growth and national and international recognition.

What has this meant for our business?

In the 25 years since we launched in Manchester, we have gone through four ownership changes and brand changes moving from Apax Partners to Altium Capital to GCA Altium and finally, last year, to Houlihan Lokey.

We have transformed from a tiny start-up to having an award winning team of approaching 30 dedicated M&A professionals in the region.

At the heart of our growth has been giving our clients the best possible service and constantly enhancing that service to the point today where we are part of the leading global mid-market M&A adviser, which gives our clients incredible access to global investors, debt providers and strategic buyers .

Over the years we have advised on some of the region’s most significant deals, including the merger of technology giants UKFast and ANS, the sale of MyProtein to The Hut Group and the record breaking AIM listing of Victorian Plumbing earlier last year.

If we think about what is next for Manchester and dealmaking in particular, there is undoubtably still plenty of room for growth as a counter balance to London and the South East.

With views changing rapidly on flexible ways of working and more people looking to relocate out of the capital, businesses are no longer restricted by the location of new talent, which should provide even greater opportunity going forward.

Reflecting back on the last 25 years, personally I feel incredibly lucky to have worked in such a great city with amazing colleagues and a vibrant, supportive, competitive, but friendly, corporate finance community and look forward to seeing the region continue to go from strength to strength.