Asia Pacific private equity has just seen the exit of someone who, by the numbers, is one of the most important advocates in the regional industry. That is Dr. Katherine Woodthorpe, now former chief executive of AVCAL, the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.
As of the time of writing, Dr. Woodthorpe’s details are still up on the AVCAL website, and there is no official statement of her resignation. But as reported in The Australian and elsewhere, she has decided to step down, effective end-October, to pursue other activities, chiefly in relation to climate and ecology.
Quoted in The Australian, AVCAL Chairman John White paid tribute to her for tackling the regulatory and other offensives that had faced the asset class in recent years. “Katherine was instrumental in assembling the evidence to show that private equity had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the Australian economy,” he said.
Dr. Woodthorpe certainly had her hands full. AVCAL was struggling for at least the past three years against Australian Taxation Office draft determinations and other moves against private equity profits which showed every sign of politically-driven decisions to let the tax hounds off the leash in a hunt for populist electoral dividends. Meanwhile, many Australian superannuation funds wound back or cancelled their private equity programmes, some of them begun in haste prior to 2008. AVCAL has been compelled to speak out loud and long for the asset class.
According to AVCAL’s latest official communication, entitled “A solid start for Australian private equity in 2013”, and dated August 13, “the first quarter of 2013 saw the Cambridge Associates LLC Australia Private Equity and Venture Capital Index (C|A Australia Index) post gains of 2.36%.” Quoted in the release, Dr. Woodthorpe said: “The first quarter of 2013 saw the highest level of distributions to limited partners (LPs) in the last five quarters, and the second highest level since records began …private equity is generally delivering good returns to investors, particularly with realisations being top of mind for many limited partners."
That’s just as well, because pension investors as a whole are still woefully under-represented in Asia Pacific private equity, and most of those that are in the asset class are in Australia and New Zealand. According to Preqin’s 2012 figures, “foundations, endowments and pension funds together make up less than 8% of the Asia LP universe”. ANZ has long been leading the charge for pension fund investment in private equity region wide, and it’s a shame that Oz PE had to carry the can for some fashion-driven and ill-informed investment decisions by local supers before and since 2008, given its bellwether status in the region. Dr. Woodthorpe’s successor still has plenty of education work to do.