Tell us a little about you, and about Synova
I grew up in Dublin and was educated in London. My co-founder and I established Synova in our late twenties, which was probably more fitting for West Coast VC than European private equity. We believed that private equity needed to be part of the growth story of making great companies even greater, not merely being a cheerleader. Rolling our sleeves up alongside founders was key to our future success.
We launched in 2007, immediately preceding the global financial crisis, which brought with it a series of challenges amidst unprecedented (until Covid) market turbulence. It took us nearly three years to raise our first pool of capital, but we had a vision which was to create a new type of partnership (where Syn-nova is derived) with other founders and business-builders.
We were entrepreneurs, partnering with fellow entrepreneurs, to generate accelerated growth in their companies, and in turn generate class-leading investment returns for our investors. Our experience was in a relatively narrow group of sectors, which we believed were decoupled from the macro-economic challenges: companies that could grow organically, and by acquisition, irrespective of the climate.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
First and foremost, people. We are a people business. Whether it’s recruiting smart young talent into our team, convincing investors to partner with us, or winning the hearts and minds of owners and managers in exciting growth companies, it’s all about engaging with highly motivated, entrepreneurial individuals.
The other thing I enjoy most is being part of the growth story of the businesses we invest in. By not sitting on the sidelines we feel far more ‘emotionally invested’ in the outcomes. The teams we partner with often decide to work with us because of our experience and because they feel we will challenge them, and that they can challenge us.
What is your investment philosophy at Synova, and what do you look for in an ideal investment?
Our philosophy is to invest in a highly disciplined way in only our core sectors of expertise: tech, financials, health and services. We target companies with talented leaders that we believe have strong underlying fundamentals, which, with our support, can grow faster. We identify companies through our research team in those markets and track them (often for many years), building relationships with the founders and sharing our ideas, long before they are even considering an investment partner.
What attracted you to the JMG group as an investment opportunity?
Put simply: People. Market. Growth potential. We have a strong track record of investing in the financial services sector, insurance in particular. So, we knew what we were looking for. Nick Houghton had all the hallmarks of a great partner for Synova. Classically trained, leading a highly respected family-owned platform, with a top-class team around him.
The UK insurance distribution market remains highly fragmented, and we had recently supported the growth of another platform, Stackhouse Poland (led by JMG’s now chairman, Tim Johnson). We believed, along with Tim and Nick, that there were a number of other similar operators across the UK landscape which we could bring together with JMG over time to strengthen the offering and provide nationwide coverage.
What does the future look like for the JMG group and Synova?
Synova is a long-term investor. And JMG is a genuine industry leader. We will continue to work with Nick and the team to support the recruitment of more talent, to continue to professionalise operations, and of course to find acquisition targets across the UK of likeminded brokers that add scale and niche products.
What JMG group CEO Nick Houghton says:
“When we started to search for a partner to help us carry out the MBO, it became clear early on that David and his team would be great people to work with. We wanted an investor who we felt brought more to the table than just capital and Synova’s reputation in this regard is first class. And that’s what we’ve experienced. It has helped us to treble in size in our first eight months together. Great businesses work with great people. It’s simple – and David and his team bring a lot to the table that we didn’t have before.”