BVCA Shoots Its Messenger

Update: Peter Linthwaite has stepped down, effective immediately.

The British private equity industry is under attack from a variety of quarters, including trade unions, politicians, the media and men 18-34. So does it plan to change its tactics? Hell no. It just plans to dump the guy who’s been charged with explaining them.

That guy would be Peter Linthwaite, chief executive of the British Venture Capital Association. The Times of London reports that Linthwaite will “step down” in September, at the conclusion of a strategic review ordered by BVCA chairman Wol Kolade. A BVCA spokesman confirmed to The Times that the review was underway, but did not comment specifically on Linthwaite.

I don’t know Linthwaite personally, but learned from his bio that he joined BVCA in mid-2005 after having previously served as a founding director of a mid-market firm called Royal London Private Equity Ltd. Before that he was executive director of Murray Johnson Ltd., which followed various banking and corporate finance gigs. Somewhere in there he managed to get married and have two adoring children.

Is the upcoming firing resignation justified? I’m going to go out on a hedge and say maybe. My London-based colleague Amanda Palmer talked earlier this year about having to cross a picket line to enter a private equity conference, and it seems that private equity is to British politics what immigration is over here. Clearly there is a major PR issue, and Linthwaite certainly has not succeeded in fixing it. For example way too many people still cling to the “corporate raider” image of buyout firms.

But I can’t help but think that that the BVCA membership also has to take a long look in the mirror. They’ve done a better job than their U.S. counterparts in extolling their own virtues (faint praise), but still seem incapable of understanding the general animosity. So let me try to clear it up: YOU’RE VERY, VERY RICH. And most everyone else is automatically suspicious of you – particularly when they don’t see enough corresponding humility or philanthropy (no, Bono doesn’t count).

It may not be fair, but neither is getting laid off from a job when you’ve worked hard and competently. Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up, and find a way to fix the problem yourself.

Again, Linthwaite may deserve to lose his job. But he also might be getting treated like an abused dog after its owner’s factory job was just terminated by new private equity management.