The benefit of going beyond the desktop in search of insight into an individual’s reputation was amply demonstrated in a recent investigation conducted by the Vcheck Intelligence team into a U.S.-based private equity investor.
Due diligence reports in the U.S. overwhelmingly rely on public records and open-source information. The sources mined for due diligence reports, typically criminal records, civil litigation, regulatory records, media searches, and corporate records have remained largely the same since these reports first became routine in the course of business—though ease and speed of access has dramatically improved. Social media, perhaps the only newcomer to this public records party in the last decade or so, offers clients a quick glance at their targets’ personal lives to confirm an absence of hugely problematic behavior, or at least they would like to think so.
Despite widespread improvements in the availability of public records, including efforts to digitize older documents, automate the due diligence process, and deliver accurate results faster, the most talented desktop researcher with access to all the research tools and databases in the world supported by the fanciest automation or artificial intelligence cannot always provide insight into a due diligence subject’s character, demeanor, professional experience, and reputation, regardless of the number of media articles, court filings, or regulatory records identified. Furthermore, while the “public record” is much longer in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world, it still has its limits. Accordingly, there are many occasions where clients can benefit from analysts going beyond the desktop and conducting source inquiries in pursuit of the whole picture.
Vcheck’s client had locked in exclusivity on an investment in partnership with this investor (“the Subject”) and their small firm, based out of a large city in the southwestern U.S. The investor had set up their own firm after a relatively brief (less than 10 years) but largely unheralded stint with a major investment bank. The Subject’s company had made a smattering of small investments in luxury goods retailers, though these had failed to make a splash. In the last five years, both these retailers and the Subject’s own firm had become defunct. Nonetheless, the Subject had set up another similarly named investment firm, presumably backed by their own capital, with which Vcheck’s client was now seeking to collaborate on a fresh round of luxury retail investments.
Prior to kicking off their new partnership, Vcheck’s client sought our Premier public records review coupled with discreet source inquiries focused on the investor’s professional reputation and business track record. Vcheck uncovered that the Subject’s previous firm had ceased to function, and its retailer investees had operated for a few years before shutting down, but it was not clear why. The client was concerned, but not ready to withdraw from the potential deal based on the results of these open-source findings.
At the client’s instruction, Vcheck was able to draw on a network of sources familiar with the Subject’s past businesses, and provide insight into their general standing among the investor and high-end retail environment in the state in which the Subject’s businesses had been active. Commentary from sources familiar with the Subject from employment at their past firm, or with the companies in which they had previously invested who had worked with them directly, as well as from industry peers and community leaders in the region in which the Subject is active, provided the necessary color and context to better understand the Subject’s professional reputation.
In addition to underwhelming commentary on the Subject’s investment expertise and business track record, other sources emphasized that the Subject was better known for their strenuous efforts to network and make connections, spending lavishly on events to try to raise their own profile while lacking true substance to back up boisterous claims of success. Flashy events and self-promotion had failed to impress those operating in the Subject’s midst.
Multiple sources felt that the Subject oversold their expertise, experience, and track record, singing their own praises to anyone who would listen without necessarily having much to sing about. Though none of the sources held the Subject’s commitment to networking against them—after all, a strong network of connections is something many aspire to—they felt that the Subject’s efforts in this regard went beyond the norm. This view, coupled with the Subject’s spotty track record and relative lack of capital to back investments, led the sources to conclude that the Subject was “all hat and no cattle.”
The information gleaned from source inquiries in this project provided Vcheck’s client with new and impactful information on the Subject and their business. Having initially thought they had been dealing with an experienced private equity executive, with their own firepower as well as a specialization in luxury goods and a regional focus, Vcheck’s client found that their potential partner had engaged in an egregious case of overselling their own capabilities. Though neither public records nor source inquiries brought to light any highly adverse allegations regarding the Subject’s conduct, or cast doubt on the notion that their past investments had failed simply because they did not generate enough momentum for themselves in their chosen market, confidence in the Subject was eroded.