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Can Hands maintain his grip?

Guy Hands built a reputation for private-equity innovation while at Nomura, which had deep pockets he could depend on. His new venture, Terra Firma, has managed to impress investors enough to raise its own funds but must now also out-think rivals that have adopted many of Hands' ideas.

Guy Hands is a straight-talking sort of man. "I want recruits, not conscripts," he told his principal finance team before they officially left Nomura in March. Some left. Those that stayed with him have just completed their first fund closing as an independent private-equity firm.

The success of Terra Firma's first fund since moving away from Nomura is crucial for the firm. Many in the market would like to see Hands fail. This negative sentiment stems from two sources: personal dislike of the man and the fact that success at this stage of a first-time fund in such a tough fundraising environment reflects poorly on more established players unable to raise at least as much.

One banker involved with private equity says of Hands: "You rarely hear good things about him. He's not everybody's cup of tea." Another says of the recent critical press that everyone has his or her own agenda. Citing more established funds, he asks: "How would it look if they couldn't raise as much?"

Terra Firma has managed to raise e1.1 billion in its first closing, with an eventual target of around e3 billion. This includes e900 million of new money and e100 million from Nomura, the Japanese firm where Hands built a glittering reputation with a string of acquisitions in the 1990s often financed through securitization.

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