Under-represented women drive buyout strategy for Dutch fund

Three Dutch women are raising their own private-equity fund with what they say is a unique strategy: investing in companies where at least a quarter of the management are women to tap under-appreciated talent.

Desiree van Boxtel, a former venture-capital executive at ABN Amro Holding NV, started Karmijn Kapitaal in 2010 with Cilian Jansen Verplanke and Hadewych Cels. The fund has already attracted almost 50 million euros ($66 million) from backers including the European Investment Fund, and last month bought a majority stake in Marlies Dekkers, a lingerie brand favored by celebrities including Lady Gaga and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Karmijn is betting companies with a balance of sexes at the top produce better returns and avoid reckless risks, and will gel with an all-female private-equity ownership team. They cite research from McKinsey & Co., which found in a survey of 279 firms that companies with the highest share of women in their executive committees made a 41% greater return on equity than those with all-male boards.

“Our goal is not to serve the cause of women,” Van Boxtel, 44, said in an interview from her Amsterdam office. “We are convinced that companies with gender-diverse managements, on average, simply perform better.”

After three investments in 16 months, the pace of deals is accelerating for Karmijn, which means “crimson” in Dutch. As many as three more transactions will follow before 2013 is over, Van Boxtel said, as the fund sifts through about 10,000 Dutch companies with the right gender balance.

‘Alpha Males’

Women hold an average of just 9.9% of the senior roles at European private-equity firms, according to London-based research provider Preqin Ltd., making Karmijn’s pitch to investors unusual. Jansen Verplanke, 48, spent almost 20 years in private equity and commercial banking at ABN Amro and Rabobank Groep, two of the largest Dutch lenders. Cels, 43, managed ventures in the software and airline industries.

Van Boxtel says Karmijn’s genesis came from a female recruitment executive who told the founders board-level women were jumping ship from companies when a takeover loomed. Instead of considering making their own management buyout, women felt they lacked the courage, risk appetite or network, she said.

“If it is indeed the case that you have women leading a company who are not comfortable sparring with private-equity funds that are usually driven by 40-year-old alpha males, and would much prefer to talk to a woman, then there is a market,” said Ludovic Phalippou, a lecturer in finance at Oxford University’s Said Business School.

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