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Private-Equity Firm Bans the D-Word

Saying 'deal' at Partners Group could get you fined $1K
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2021 4:30 PM CDT
Private-Equity Firm Bans the D-Word
   (Getty Images/metamorworks)

(Newser) – As a private equity firm, making deals is what Partners Group Holdings does—but CEO David Layton has banned the D-word and set up the equivalent of a swear jar. Partners who write or say the word "deal" have to make a $1,000 donation to charity, while the fine is $100 for junior employees, the Wall Street Journal reports. Soon after the 40-year-old CEO introduced the policy in June, he fined co-founder Marcel $3,000 for using the word three times in a speech at the Swiss firm's annual retreat. Layton says he banned the word because he wants colleagues at the buyout firm, which has assets of $119 billion, to move away from a viewpoint that treats buying a business as a one-time event instead of an ongoing process.

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Employees have started saying "investment" instead of "deal." Layton tells the Journal that he also likes the words "stewardship, governance, strategy, culture, entrepreneurship, operational excellence, and sustainability." He says the vocabulary is part of an effort to change the industry's image. "People in our business are called sharks, vultures, wolves," Layton says. "In Germany they call us locusts. At Partners, we’re like penguins. When it gets cold they all huddle together to protect the young penguins." The Journal describes the firm as "quirky," noting that it was the first private-equity firm to go public—and after it was founded in 1996, it made a point of giving employees and partners a sabbatical every five years.

Layton, who works out of the firm's new US headquarters in Denver, says the "deal" ban relies on the honor system, unless he personally overhears it—and he believes it is linked to a 65% rise in donations to its charitable arm this year. Avoiding the D-word at the company must have been a difficult task in recent weeks: Reuters reported last month that Partners Group had made deals to acquire stakes in 17 companies after raising $15 billion to invest in assets including tech and healthcare companies as the economy recovers from the pandemic. (Read more private equity stories.)

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