Apax Venture Capital,
$51 Billion in assets.
I was lucky to get an invite to this exclusive webinar from Exeter College, Oxford University, where Sir Ronald Cohen was an undergraduate.
After graduating with an MBA from Harvard Business School, Cohen worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company in the UK and Italy.
In 1972, along with two former business school colleagues as partners, he founded Apax Partners, one of Britain's first venture capital firms.
The company grew slowly at first, but expanded rapidly in the 1990s, becoming Britain's largest venture capital firm, and "one of three truly global venture capital firms".
Apax provided startup capital for over 500 companies and provided money for many others, including AOL, Virgin, Waterstone's, and PPL Therapeutics, the company that cloned Dolly the sheep.
My favourite part of the discussion was when Sir Ronald Cohen was talking about his career progression. Ronald said that Oxford was the more intellectually challenging of the two institutions he attended. He said that Harvard Business School was more 'like a trade school'.
Sir Ronald made the world's most prestigious business school sound like a place you go to learn how to become an electrician or a plumber, not a Titan of industry, like him or, fellow Harvard MBA Steve Schwartzman, founder of Blackstone Group.
To be fair, Ronald said later that he wouldn't have achieved the success he did if he hadn't attended Harvard Business School. If you are eighteen or nineteen at Oxford, studying a subject like PPE, you would have had such a variety of intellectual stimulations. But getting an MBA is a much more focused endeavour.
Below: Steve Schwartzman, Founder of Blackstone Group. Steve set up scholarships with LSE, and Tsinghua University, in China, creating a Master's degree in Global Affairs.
This webinar suffered somewhat from the same malaise as the Steve Schwartzman of The Blackstone Group interview that I attended at the LSE a few years ago.
Just like the LSE student who interviewed the founder of Blackstone two years ago, Sir Ronald Cohen's interviewer was a little too deferential for my liking.
- Don't you find that these types of talks are more entertaining when the interviewer throws in a few hardball questions along with the softball ones?
Also, these interviews with the Super-rich talking about how awful inequality is, have been done to death. Many would argue that the wealthy are part of the problem, not the solution.
I would have loved to hear more about his career and the birth of the VC industry in the UK, which he described in his excellent book 'Second bounce of the ball: Turning risk into Opportunity'
I'm sceptical of how much millionaires and billionaires can do to alleviate inequality. During the Great Depression of the 1930s in the USA, it was government and the leadership of President Roosevelt, not the business community, that created a 'New Deal' that pulled the country out of the economic slump.
On a macro-level, I wonder how effective will these initiatives be? But I'm still open-minded, and Sir Ronald did make some excellent points, worth considering, on how social investing can benefit society.
Investors are increasingly considering all aspects of the businesses they back - not just how much money it makes, but also how much the industry contributes to society.
Is the company a significant polluter, like BP or Shell? Or does it have a vision for a greener future, like Tesla, which has seen its share price grow 300% this year?
Here's Sir Ronald Cohen's new book: Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to drive real change.
and his previous one, which I enjoyed reading: The Second Bounce of the Ball: Turning Risk into Opportunity.