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How Government guidelines are getting UK firms back to business safely

As the restrictions of lockdown have begun to ease, many more of us are returning to the workplace. To help companies get back up and running as safely as possible, the Government has put together Covid-19 secure guidelines.

If you and your staff can’t work from home and do need to return to the workplace to do your job, employers have been introducing a range of measures to reduce the risk of infection.

Government guidelines

These include cleaning, hand washing and an increase in hygiene procedures, with hand sanitisers around the workplace. Workspaces are cleaned and disinfected more regularly, with emphasis on regularly touched surfaces.

Social distancing guidelines (2m) should also be maintained wherever possible and signage acts as a useful reminder.

It’s also recommended that workers don’t share workstations and visitors should be seen by appointment only.

What’s more, the Government recommends that companies adapt staggered arrival and departure times, and employees avoid public transport if possible (see above).

Meet two UK businesses who’ve started their journey back to work, adopting the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines…

Hampton Printing, Bristol

Mike Malpas lives and breathes print. An account director at family-run Hampton Printing near Bristol, his day-to-day job involves high-end print clients. Not only is he usually on the road meeting people, he spends time on the shop floor and manages a team – and wanted to get back to work quickly.

“Our clients still need things printed and this can’t be done from home,” he explains. His company is currently working with the NHS to deliver potentially life-saving materials, as well as Rolls-Royce, among others.

Hampton Printing’s 32,000 square foot space is already a clean, dust-free environment, but the entire workspace had to be altered to ensure it is Covid-19-ready and safe for staff returning to work. Out of its 56 staff, 20 have now returned to work, including Malpas.

Reduced staff numbers help social distancing and, in every area of the business, there is hand sanitation, and signage about social distancing rules. Doors are also kept open so nobody touches the handles.

Hampton Printing also sanitises any paper that is delivered, then leaves it for six hours before printing to maintain high hygiene standards. The company has also retained two full-time cleaners who clean every single work surface on a daily basis.

“These measures make us all feel safe,” Malpas explains. “It feels great to be back at work and getting into a routine again.”

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Marston’s and Carlsberg UK announce £780m merger

Brewer Marston’s is to merge with Carlsberg’s UK arm, uniting ales such as Pedigree and Hobgoblin with Danish Pilsner and Somersby cider.

Marston Carlsberg Merger

The joint venture is valued at £780m, with stock market-listed Marston’s taking a 40% stake in the merged firm.

The deal involves Marston’s six breweries and distribution depots, but not its 1,400 pubs.

The new Carlsberg Marstons Brewery Company will create “synergies and productivity” benefits, Marston’s said.

Marston’s employs a total 14,000 people.

Carlsberg UK will put its Northampton brewery, London Fields brewery, and national distribution centre into the joint venture. Marston’s will put in its six national and regional breweries – Marston’s, Banks’s, Wychwood, Jennings, Ringwood and Eagle – and 11 distribution depots.

The deal means Carlsberg will have access to Marston’s pubs to sell a wider range of brands.

Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Wolverhampton-based Marston’s, said the joint venture brings together companies known for heritage and brand portfolio.

Tomasz Blawat, managing director of Carlsberg UK, said the deal enables the companies to offer “a bigger beer portfolio of complementary international, national and regional brands”.

The coronavirus lockdown means UK pubs are closed, with many in the industry saying that a mooted re-opening with a two-metre rule for customers would not work. Some pub operators have suggested that a one-metre rule might be a better compromise.


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Hedge fund criticises ‘unjust’ takeover bid for Sirius Minerals

Crispin Odey’shedge fund has attacked Anglo-American’s “unjust” takeover bid for Sirius Minerals, saying the £405m offer does not represent a fair price for shareholders in the troubled fertiliser miner.

Odey Asset Management, which owns 1.3% of Sirius, said it would vote against the mining giant’s 5.5p-a-share bid for the company, which plans to dig the UK’s first deep mine in 40 years under the North York moors.

In an open letter to Anglo’s boss, Mark Cutifani, and Chris Fraser, the chief executive of Sirius, the London-based fund argued that Anglo had stopped short of making a “final” offer so that it could raise its bid to see off any potential counter bid for the company.

Odey said it believed Anglo would be willing to “bid substantially more” for Sirius if a counter bid for the company emerged, which it said proved that the existing offer did not represent a fair price for the company.


“It is Odey’s belief that Anglo American’s current offer does not represent fair value for shareholders in Sirius,” said the letter, which was signed by Odey’s fund manager, Henry Steel. The hedge fund said it would vote against any offer that was not final or that was less than 7p a share.

The existing takeover offer would wipe out the investments of thousands of small shareholders, but it still won the support of the Sirius chairman, Russell Scrimshaw. He said last month it was “the only viable proposal” to save the company’s multibillion-pound project to develop the Woodsmith fertiliser mine under the North York moors.


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The City must stop complaining and start talking about the opportunities of Brexit

Too much of the discussion around Brexit’s impact on the City has treated it as something of an inconvenience that must be “managed”. This is perhaps understandable — business rarely likes change, certainly not on this scale. But it’s time that we start talking about the opportunities Brexit will present to the City.

The conversation largely remains dominated by politicians, with some in the UK government championing “permanent equivalence”, while figures from the EU’s Michel Barnier to Sir Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor of the Bank of England, warn that significant divergence is both likely and necessary.

Such divergence is typically framed negatively, with the focus being on the possibility of the City losing unfettered access to the EU’s Single Market. However, I see two potential ways in which London’s financial institutions might not just survive but thrive from the opportunity presented once the transition period ends in December.

First, if the regulatory regime diverges even slightly from that of the EU by placing less onerous requirements on financial organisations, it can have a positive knock-on effect on UK banks’ performance and competitiveness


As we have seen in the US, a more flexible approach to regulation has been a contributing factor to the stronger recovery and greater profitability of the American banking industry over the past decade.

City advocacy groups are already eyeing a new regulatory framework beyond the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (Mifid II) — the EU directive that instituted an extensive set of new obligations on banks, fund managers, brokers, exchanges, and underlying investors.

Overseen solely by the UK government, such a framework would inevitably better reflect the priorities of UK firms: maintaining financial stability and investor protections, without inhibiting the City’s global competitiveness.

The second and much less talked about opportunity is something over which financial institutions have far more direct influence. Long-established firms are in a constant struggle to keep pace with the technical requirements of regulatory change. Often, to meet tight deadlines, changes are shoe-horned into existing architectures at the expense of technical progress and evolution. This was the experience for many European banks around Mifid II’s adoption.

That represented a huge missed opportunity. The ultimate goals of new regulations are not necessarily detrimental to banks’ commercial interests. In fact, as with Mifid II, they are often directly aligned. For example, the requirement to comprehensively categorise and record all customer interactions, if done properly, can be an accelerator for better customer relationship management and risk control.

Technological advancement is already driving the reconfiguration of banks’ tech systems. The City should embrace divergence not simply as a new box-ticking requirement, but as an opportunity to expand outside of constraints and give London’s financial services the technological edge over its international competitors.

While we may be a long way from knowing where the chips will fall, and a clean break may remain the less likely outcome, firms must stop undervaluing the possibility and start considering the opportunities for the financial services industry.


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2020: A year of increased M&A activity and the role of brand

Despite geopolitical fears and the spectre of a global economic slowdown organisations are continuing to look to M&A to achieve growth. According to the Global Capital Confidence Barometer as we move into a new decade 52 per cent of organisations are planning to actively pursue M&A over the next 12 months. In particular tech, B2B and luxury have all been earmarked as sectors with over average potential for activity.

However, the stats show that between 50 and 85 per cent of the deals will fail. With the average transaction value set at around $52 million; the stakes are high. However, for the 15-50 per cent of M&A deals that are successful the rewards far outweigh the risk.

Cultural difference is the most vaunted reason for a failed merger. The dissonance between two organisations can be extremely divisive and the inability to align them from the offset can quickly and easily set in the rot which eventually turns gangrenous and ultimately becomes terminal. Even the most seemingly trivial of differences can be a powerful indicator that all is not right with a deal.


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Private equity is dominating the NBA in 2020

Rich guys like to own professional sports teams. Private equity produces a lot of rich guys. So it’s little surprise that buyout billionaires have been snapping up NBA franchises for the past two decades.

In recent years, a few of those franchises have achieved unprecedented success. In fact, private equity tycoons have turned the league’s Eastern Conference into their own personal playground.

During the 2018-2019 season, the four top finishers in the East were all controlled by private equity pros, including the NBA champion Toronto Raptors. As the 2019-2020 season enters this weekend’s All-Star break, those same teams occupy four of the top five spots in the conference.

And all four ownership groups have at least one common factor in how they’ve achieved recent success, a trait that could tie back to their pasts in overseeing portfolio companies: Instead of meddling in every small decision, they’ve developed reputations for hiring the best talent available and getting out of the way.

PE’s basketball jones

The Milwaukee Bucks have been the NBA’s dominant team so far this season, sitting in first place in the East with a sparkling 46-8 record. The Bucks are co-owned by Wes Edens, a co-founder of Fortress Investment, and Marc Lasry, a co-founder of Avenue Capital, who teamed to acquire the franchise in 2014.

At second place in the East sit the defending champion Raptors. The Toronto franchise is owned by a group called Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which is in turn partially owned by Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Kilmer Capital Partners and the longtime CEO of Kilmer Van Nostrand. Tanenbaum represents the Raptors on the NBA’s Board of Governors (the league now eschews the word “owner”), making him the team’s most powerful dignitary.
The Boston Celtics occupy third place in the East standings. Since 2002, the legendary franchise has been owned by an investor group led by Wyc Grousbeck (formerly a partner at Highland Capital Partners) that also includes Steve Pagliuca, a co-chairman at Bain Capital. Grousbeck is the son of Irv Grousbeck, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

And fifth place in the East is currently filled by the Philadelphia 76ers, who in 2011 were acquired by a wide-ranging group of investors that includes Josh Harris, a co-founder of Apollo Global Management, and David Blitzer, global head of tactical opportunities at Blackstone. Harris is the team’s principal owner.


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OneTrust doubles valuation to $2.7B as consumer data laws go global

Global data privacy laws are quickly minting a new sector in software.

Privacy tech startup OneTrust has raised $210 million in a Series B led by Coatue and Insight Partners. The round values the company at $2.7 billion, just eight months after it raised a $200 million Series A at a $1.3 billion valuation.

OneTrust, based in Atlanta and London, is part of a cohort of startups capitalizing on the growing demands that privacy regulations are placing on businesses. Europe’s GDPR set off a cascade of regulatory efforts around privacy, and the California Consumer Privacy Act took effect this year. Similar efforts are being implemented or considered in other US states and around the world.

OneTrust isn’t the only startup to find itself suddenly flush with cash to tackle privacy concerns. San Jose-based raised $81 million within a year of launching, and fellow data governance firms AvePoint and TrustArc also recently secured large financing rounds.

“This is a space that didn’t really exist four years ago,” said Alan Dabbiere, OneTrust chairman and the founder and former chairman of AirWatch. The significant war chest will allow OneTrust to build its offerings through acquisitions; last year, the startup snapped up two privacy businesses.

The money also demonstrates to potential customers that OneTrust is credible and viable, said Dabbiere. Those characteristics are vital to winning the kinds of large contracts with multinational organizations that the company is targeting.

“The market really rewards platforms,” Dabbiere said. “We are really the first true platform in privacy.” OneTrust says it has grown to 1,500 employees serving 5,000 customers around the world, including nearly half of the Fortune 500, in less than four years.

As demonstrated by the record $5 billion fine imposed on Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission last year, the cost of violating consumer privacy is higher than ever. But even as compliance becomes more stringent, Dabbiere believes that companies’ desire for customer data is only growing. However, they also want to manage that data responsibly and avoid relying on major tech firms to obtain it.

Wherever the fear of regulation meets the desire for data is an opportunity for privacy-focused companies. “What you’ve got is CEOs that have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake, saying ‘I want to get closer [to customers], but I don’t want to risk my business.’ And I think this is really what’s driving our business,” said Dabbiere.

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European VC enters mega-fund land as Atomico closes on $820 million

Europe’s ever-growing startup ecosystem is prompting venture capitalists to raise ever-larger war chests.

The latest is Atomico, the London-based firm created by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, whose team on Tuesday unveiled a final close on $820 million for its fifth fund, a record-setting haul on the heels of a historic year for the European venture market.

Atomico’s new fund marks the largest for an independent venture firm based in Europe, which saw an all-time high of $11.2 billion in VC fundraising industrywide last year, according to PitchBook data. And the typical fund is getting bigger, with the median size rising to an unprecedented $105 million, a trend that is fueling larger funding rounds for startups in Europe and the US alike. European firms Northzone Ventures and Balderton Capital raised $500 million and $400 million funds respectively in late 2019.

For Atomico, the new vehicle is $55 million bigger than its predecessor, Fund IV, which in 2017 hauled in $765 million in the aftermath of the UK’s historic referendum to leave the European Union. The early-stage firm has backed companies like mobile-game developer Supercell, artificial-intelligence specialist Graphcore, and payment platform Klarna.

Atomico partner Hiro Tamura said that despite the bigger fund size, the firm’s strategy remains the same as its fourth fund, albeit serving a European VC market that is more crowded than in past years.

“There will be more competition and there will be more people vying for similar returns,” Tamura said. “I think we will continue to occupy what I think is a very effective zone for us, that is Series A and late venture rounds.”

Atomico acts as lead investor in Europe with a remit that also extends to the US, where it acts as a co-investor. Its new fund, first announced in 2018, also will write checks for Series B and C deals.

Tamura said Atomico’s strategy is to bet on startups in both business and consumer markets, including investments related to payments platforms and deep tech. Its new fund has already started to deploy capital, investing in startups such as diagnostics provider Kheiron Medical, employee-retention specialist Peakon and sales-software platform Automation Hero.


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Coronavirus deals latest blow to China’s struggling VC landscape

China’s once-booming venture capital scene is grappling with its latest setback as the coronavirus outbreak derails fundraising for companies in the region.

In the past month and a half, venture capital activity in China—both in terms of the number of deals and the money raised by startups—has fallen more than 60% compared with the same period last year, according to PitchBook data.

“It’s very difficult to be able to get things done,” said Drew Bernstein, co-managing partner at Marcum BP, an accounting firm that advises Chinese companies. “It would be hard for me to imagine a business in China that’s not affected by this.”

From the start of the year through Feb. 12, venture capital activity in China fell from 340 to 144 deals, and the capital raised declined from $4.3 billion to $1.4 billion, when compared to the same period last year. The drop-off was particularly pronounced following the Lunar New Year in late January.


Even before the outbreak, the venture landscape in China suffered from waning confidence in the domestic startup scene. After years of red-hot funding activity, investors were shaken by the poor post-IPO performance of several tech companies, including electric car maker NIO and smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi.

“The valuations of a lot of companies got cut” after going public, said Ted Chan, a data analyst at PitchBook. “Investors were seeing that happen and got more careful about investing.”

Past outbreaks, such as SARS in 2003 and the 2016 Zika virus, both weighed on public and private investment activity. In the case of Zika, the amount raised through venture deals in South and Central America declined by a third, according to PitchBook data.


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As big bank M&A heats up, Morgan Stanley will pay $13B for E*Trade

Morgan Stanley declared Thursday that it has agreed to buy discount brokerage pioneer E*Trade for a whopping $13 billion—representing the priciest acquisition announced by a major US bank since 2008, according to PitchBook data, when regulators arranged a string of hasty mergers to rescue the financial system.

With the deal’s emergence, the online brokerage wars may have reached an apex. Trading commissions are out the window. Charles Schwab has gobbled up smaller rival TD Ameritrade. Now, America’s second-largest investment firm is plunging into the battle in a bid to further diversify its business.

“Wealth management and online brokerage are both relatively steady and relatively capital-light, especially in comparison to sales and trading operations,” said Morningstar equity analyst Michael Wong.

This diversification effort has fueled a consistent acceleration of M&A activity in the US financial services sector. Deal value hit a decade-peak in 2018, with about $289 billion worth of acquisitions in the space, according to PitchBook data. 2019 was in second place with deals totaling $230 billion.


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