Let’s not kid ourselves that private equity was any more prepared for the onslaught of COVID-19 than anyone else. Even the best laid contingency plans have been tested to their limit by a global economy in lockdown. But – as the industry is fond of telling itself – private equity’s resilience is legendary. Sponsors have succinctly transitioned from emergency action, into a hard-nosed appraisal of the pandemic’s impact on consumer behaviour, business recovery rates, future fundraising and, of course, returns. Indeed, while there is no doubt that the vast majority of private equity managers are rolling up their sleeves, ready to support their portfolio companies through a grueling return to business as usual, it is also true that most didn’t miss a beat before – none too quietly – heralding the arrival of a once in a generation buying opportunity.
That is their job, of course – to maximise the money they make on behalf of their investors through savvy buying decisions and smart value creation. But swaggering headlines proclaiming Apollo’s plans to raise $20bn as distressed opportunities soar; KKR’s $20bn bargain hunt in March, while others were still reeling, and a bubbling sense of excitement across the industry, ultimately, at the prospect of others’ misfortune, shows a remarkable lack of sensitivity – and basic PR nous – that one would rather hope the asset class had grown out of.