Private equity: The inside story of Equis and its partners’ $800 million bounty
When renewables private equity group Equis Energy was sold to GIP for $5 billion – $3.7 billion of it equity – investors walked away with well over double their initial investment. The founders of Equis made around $800 million. But why was more than $500 million of the proceeds ringfenced into a vehicle called Equis Renewables, in which the underlying investors did not participate, while the general partners got it all? The story of how those assets got there casts a light on the curious inner workings of modern private equity.
When the money cleared, the partners of Equis went shopping to celebrate. Founder and leader David Russell got a yellow Lamborghini; his brother Tim, a personalized orange Porsche. Craig Marsh settled upon a black McLaren with carbon-fibre trims.
They had reason to celebrate. The clearance of funds that day in January 2018 marked the conclusion of the biggest renewable energy sale ever completed.
Several months earlier a consortium led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), with partners including the China Investment Corporation sovereign wealth fund, had agreed to buy the renewable energy asset portfolio of Equis, a Singapore-headquartered independent infrastructure asset manager, for $5 billion.
Some $1.3 billion of that was assumed liabilities, but still, it was a landmark: $3.7 billion of equity, the vast majority of it in unrestricted cash.
At Macquarie, [David Russell] was respected, but I suspect he was seen as a bit of a maverick. He wanted to test the boundaries. That’s one reason he left - Former colleague
The partners, most of them ex-Macquarie bankers, had delivered for their investors, who included some of the biggest institutional names in the world: the University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Company (Utimco), Partners Group, Willis Towers Watson, BlackRock, JPMorgan Pension, numerous Australian superannuation funds, and others representing the Dutch, German and Malaysian state.