September 2019

Ricky Gervais, Due Diligence and the End of the World – Drayton’s Josh French on identifying the very best Private Equity talent.

In a situation like that, a philosopher would really come into their own. That’s why I’d go for St Thomas Aquinas. Gervais is an atheist, too, so, I think, he and St Thomas would have some brilliant conversations

Ricky Gervais, Nigella Lawson, and St Thomas Aquinas. If the world ends these are just some of the people Josh French would like to spend his last moments with. And – as someone who spends his working life thinking forensically about the minutiae of candidate selection – Drayton’s new partner is likely to have chosen them well.

French, a Consumer and PE sector specialist has only recently joined Drayton and is tasked with the further expansion of the company’s already successful London office. Originally, a Manchester University philosophy graduate and, it turns out, a keen bibliophile – he is currently reading Hanna Jameson’s post-apocalyptic thriller The Last. Two facts which, I think, explain both why the 13th-century Dominican friar and theologian, Aquinas, make the list and how – near the end of our interview – conversation turns towards French’s personal invitations to a The Last-style dinner party.

But, before that, he tells me a little about his approach to search.

‘We support businesses within the Consumer Sector on their board and senior management appointments, working closely with executives, founder-owners, and financial sponsors,’ he says. ‘Alongside working with investors during their deal process, helping them to identify and gain access to individuals best placed to advise them; situational experts who can unlock and secure a deal before, very often, taking a non-exec or exec position within the business.’ Leaning forward in his chair and talking with genuine passion, he expands on the point. ‘In the case of PE, you're often looking to provide the investor with someone who can do due diligence on their behalf. As I say, usually with the view that that person might then move into the business in some fashion once it’s been acquired. So, it could be a chairman, CEO or CFO.’ You’d expect French – an experienced consultant – to know the search process from the perspective of the client inside out. But he also has some interesting points to make about the candidate view. Some based on his own first interview at another consultancy.

‘The interviews were spread over two days and on the second day you met with the managing partner, then two further partners and senior consultants. Obviously, you understand they are assessing you. But, from the candidate perspective, thinking back to that personal experience, which I often do, you also need to make an assessment of them. Can you work with them and they work with you? And, fundamentally, will you really enjoy working at that particular company? In that particular culture? Because, to me, that's the bonus, that's the Holy Grail. If that happens, both the candidate and client get to win.’

That search for the Grail – the simple understanding that the right culture is what any senior appointee needs to thrive – is, it seems, what brought him to Drayton. ‘Now, at this stage of my career, where I can have more of an influence and be part of something; the thought of being part of the continuing development and expansion of the Drayton London office was very attractive. There was an immediate rapport, a meeting of minds, after chatting with Ian and Rob. I felt this was a culture I could work in and really enjoy.’

As I suspected, French does, have considered reasons for his choice of a last-chance-saloon dinner party guest. ‘You’d definitely want a comedian somebody you can shed light on bad situations,’ he says, laughing. ‘So, that’s why I choose Ricky Gervais. And in a situation like that, a philosopher would really come into their own. That’s why I’d go for St Thomas Aquinas. Gervais is an atheist, too, so, I think, he and St Thomas would have some brilliant conversations.’

Job done, then. Even at the end of the world, Josh French clearly knows how to put the right people together in a room to create a positive and uplifting culture.