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Semaphore's 2015 Confidence Survey

Semaphore's Annual Confidence Survey

Last year hundreds of you told us you hated Congress, thought the President was a failure and expected to make more cash than ever despite the denizens of Washington DC.  Feeling more confident or less confident in the President’s Economic team as we see a Republican House and Senate taking control of the Capitol? Have thoughts on your boss and competitors? Do you expect to make even more personal compensation next year than this year?   Annually we ask our readers to weigh in and share their level of confidence in themselves, the economy and their businesses.  Last year we heard significant levels of confidence – did it prove to be so? Especially as the stock market rose in a continuing bull market and reported PE/VC values (and deal costs) rose as well.

Semaphore is conducting its seventh annual survey of Private Equity and Venture Capital partners, principals and professionals supporting the industry. The purpose of this survey is to gather anonymous input from our industry friends and clients with the results fully reported to all. It will stay live until mid-January.

By participating you will get to gauge your expectations with your peers, competitors and industry colleagues. The survey will take 2-3 minutes and respondent identity will not be reported to us.  Results will be published in Term Sheet and on our website www.sema4usa.com.   We know you have opinions – share them with the world and please take the survey.

Click here  to take the survey.

Click here  to see last year's results.

Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), is a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for seven PE and VC funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit provider and advises General and Limited Partners around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: Semaphore

No Sand Between Our Toes (2014)

Why our feet are not stuck in the mud.

I truly thought we might be skipping this 7th annual post – or have to retitle it “Feet Stuck in Mud”.  The cycle of summer seems to start only after the kids leave school and then return. My wife Tricia used to say “summer starts on the 4th of July and ends two weeks later,” and that sentiment brings near universal agreement –especially to those who have to pay attention to the back-to-school shopping rhythm and planning that truly does start in late July.     In truth, I was looking forward to an extended August respite because business was, well – just slow on the new biz development front.   No complaint, we are plenty busy and full of appreciation for clients and obligations we have right now. Our current collection of funds under management and associated portfolio companies are steaming along as we continue the work-a-day obligation of sustaining and growing value.   One of my favorites in the portfolio is going to crash through a $75 million run rate this year after plateauing near $25 million for the last few years.  Exciting stuff!  Our dozen plus Federal New Markets Tax Credit projects are either completed or in the ground, being particularly proud of the redevelopment of Liberty, Kentucky after its near total devastation by a tornado just two years ago.  We have even seen one of our completed University projects jump start an even more advantageous investment in a textbook demonstration of economic development leverage resulting in the creation of a fully privately funded nursing school. New jobs created, lives improved and strong emotional satisfaction from Florida to Oregon and San Antonio to New York City. 

So…what am I grumbling about?  In truth, we love the hunt for new fund and business opportunity.  We revel in the initial introduction to a vexing challenge.  It takes upwards of a year when we work with Limited Partners to help them understand the mitigation opportunities they have when they are involved with a troubled fund and/or recalcitrant General Partner.  All those months of free consulting – becoming intimate of the private troubles and competing interests, managing the diverse opinions and educating all parties about the complexities and opportunities of the intervention process  and the initial entry – is wonderfully exciting all by itself  (even if we don’t get paid for the effort).  I may be overselling that a bit but for those of you involved in biz dev I think you can more readily understand. 

We had at least two funds scheduled to come off the “contemplation and discovery” phase and move into “direct intervention” for the beginning of this summer.  However, for various reasons the engagements were put on pause until the fall.  We even demurred we step into one of those funds because we saw another path that would allow a repair of the GP/LP relationship twinned with some governance and oversight changes. Less income and work for us but it’s about doing the right thing for the client.  I will confess to missing the excitement of walking into a new challenge...alas. 

It was if we were planning to dig our feet firmly into the soft wet beach sand rather than trodding yet a few more airport terminals this August.  Then, just as the doldrums of summer were about to wash over us, BANG, a client crisis arrives.  Nothing is better than being able to stride into a maelstrom of doubt and fear that a challenging situation requires.  I can’t tell you about it just yet (on second thought, I’m likely to never tell you about it unless it becomes a heavily veiled business school case study) but I promise you we are enjoying the trials and pains of putting our clients at ease and reigning in the troubles caused by their badly-behaving GP. 

Maybe Tricia was right.  I did get the frantic initial Limited Partner call on July 20th. Summer did end two weeks after Independence Day.  Oh well, there is always Labor Day weekend.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of troubled Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: troubled funds, equity, venture funds, private equity funds, Semaphore, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, portfolio company, LP, private equity

Results of 6th Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

 

Confidence at All Time High

Results of 6th Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

 

By Mark S. DiSalvo

Is irrational exuberance on the horizon?  Will the Merry-Go-Round ever stop? Can the Masters of the Universe continue to rule? Notwithstanding the recent February Dow swoon the 2014 Semaphore Confidence Survey suggests No, No and Yes.
Extraordinarily, 91% of our over 500 respondents were confident in their own businesses, fully 50% higher than a year ago. 94% were confident in themselves, an all-time high, growing from78% last year.  In contrast only 31% of respondents expressed confidence in the President with 49% stating a lack of confidence in him, significantly above last year’s 37% number. As miserable as that may be it is decidedly better than the leader of the other branch of government, Speaker John Boehner, who has an 11% favorable v 66% unfavorable rating. As dreadful a rating for sure but it is far better than Congress as an institution with 87% expressing no or little confidence in our elected officials and only 1% offering an expression of confidence in the House or Senate.
In contrast some 80%, nearly double last year’s 43%, remain confident in the PE/VC Industry, while 6% express confidence in the US economy and less than half at 22% enjoying confidence in the International economy. This is expressed in the near wild enthusiasm around expected deal number and size.  96% reported completing between 1 and 4 deals and a similar number expecting to do the same.  More surprisingly is that over a quarter of us completed more than six transactions and fully a third anticipate exceeding that plateau in 2014.  And the deal sizes are growing.  Across venture and PE the average initial investment size is expected to be 50% larger in 2014 than last year. 
So what will all this prospective deal effort be in? Health Care investing shot to top in expected activity, up from fourth. Enterprise Software got bumped to #2 and Energy oriented investing rocketed to third place and last year was not even in the top ten.  With Business Services ranked fourth in prospective deal making with Digital Media and Financial Services tied for 5th place. Agriculture investment broke the top ten for the first time and came in a close 6th.  Gaming was not only out of the money but also failed to make the top twenty. Social/Community Technology, On-line Consumer Retail and Food rounded out our top ten deal hopes.  
And where does all this enthusiasm and confident take us. 77% expect to earn more than they did in 2013 with only 6% expecting to earn less. This on top of the fact that 65% earned more last year than they did in 2012 and 23% reported earning less.
For the second year in a row my industry colleagues continue to see the prospect of more income, more deal flow and high confidence in themselves, their peers, and industry. This clear read comparing the raw highlight data from the 6th annual Semaphore Confidence Survey with last year’s results suggests that our industry remains on the rise.  Too much more enthusiasm and consequent riches and our seemingly hated colleagues in Congress might find it more politically palatable to eliminate capital gain rates on carry.
The distribution of respondents in the US remained nearly the same from past years - the top five were 29% California, 16% Massachusetts, 11% New York, 6% Connecticut and 5% Texas with only New Jersey dropping out of the mix (guess the GW Bridge traffic might have been too heavy to get our usual Garden State respondents to reply). DC 4% and Illinois came in at 3% and no other state represented more than 1%. Our US respondents had reasonable confidence in their state governments with 26% expressing confidence - at least in comparison to the US Congress.    
International responses were quite different.  We had our widest ever distribution of respondents with only the UK remaining on top with 37% of all international survey-takers with (10 points higher than last year) followed by  9% Canada, 7% China and 3% France rounding-out the top four just as they did the prior years. We received multiple respondents from Germany, the Philippines, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Viet Nam and single responses from14 other nations including our first ever from Bora Bora (must have been a PE partner on vacation!). International respondents had depressingly poor opinions of their governments with 5% expressing confidence in their countries leaders, down from 7% in 2013.   
The 563 of us who did reply this year, up from 470 last year, was over weighted by third party professional participants compared to past years.  The mix this year compared to the last year was VC (24% v 39% ), Buy-out pros (25% v 24%), Limited Partners (6% v 13%) operating executives (7% v 6%) and third party professional (38% v 18%). Hmmm…charting this back to the income responses, perhaps the continued increase in income levels is attributable to the transaction fees and expenses associated with our explosion of deal numbers and values.
Comments this year were more muted in tone than past years and can be viewed on the survey highlights link below. Perhaps the tight bandwidth contributed to the lack of wit expressed.   Here is one none-too-pleased respondent commenting on the survey itself:
            “Well done, like an overly charred steak forgotten on a summer BBQ grill. Terrible survey.”
I hate when that happens as I like my steak very rare.
Hope everyone’s expectations are indeed met in 2014.  See you next year.
To see the highlights of the results of the 2014 Semaphore Confidence Survey please click here.  If you want to do your own comparison, the 2013 Semaphore Confidence Survey results are here.
Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of troubled Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: market diligence, troubled funds, Venture Capital, equity, investment, venture funds, technology, private equity funds, Semaphore, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, turnaround, LP, private equity

Teaching Ethics


Stop the Merry-Go-Round:

It’s Time to Get Serious and Teach Ethics to Help End the Games

By Mark DiSalvo and Mark Connolly

The media are filled with the seemingly never-ending games of financial fraud and scandal. We continue to witness a basic lack of ethical standards, the end result of which translates into higher consumer costs, economic ruin, cynicism, and most assuredly a lack of confidence in our business sector, government and society generally. And despite all of this, nothing is being done to train citizens and future business leaders concerning the simple task of proper behavior. This is playground stuff – learn to play by the rules and, where rules don’t exist, act appropriately. These are easy guidelines every kid running around an elementary school playground understands.  Why is it so hard for those of us in business suits to remember what our schoolmates and playground monitors taught us?
In 2002, the New Hampshire Securities Bureau reached a $5 million agreement with Tyco Corporation concerning its alleged corporate malfeasance. At that time, that settlement was one of the largest securities settlements in the nation’s history. The funds have since been dedicated to establishing programs within higher education in the state for the advancement of ethical standards in both the private and public sectors. 
Just days ago it was announced JP Morgan will be ponying up $13 billion to state and federal regulators to address its mortgage dealings failures. It has been estimated the remaining level of legal exposure by the largest US financial institutions could result in the settlement total for alleged mortgage fraud in the United States to be in excess of $100 billion.  It is now evident 2013 will likely mark the high-water mark toward addressing the responsibility of the financial-crisis era of the first decade of this century, a period resulting in two major economic slowdowns—all because of ethical lapses in our financial markets. Both periods resulted in Congressional action to address regulatory shortcomings (Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002 and Dodd-Frank in 2010).
Unfortunately, as yet, no action has been taken to address the ethical behavior break-down in our country and how such behavior not only diminishes society but damages our economy as well our very way of life.  No national effort has been crafted to teach that “greed is not good.” Now is the time to take stock on why ethics matters.  We need to get America’s future business and community leaders thinking about ethical behavior and what it means in terms of responsibility and accountability.  
American entrepreneurialism and government support for it has created the most dynamic country in world history. This dynamism has also produced unparalleled growth and economic opportunity. However, the recent past also shows that unlawful and unethical behavior left unchecked can result in moral break-down and economic self-destruction. We must instill a sense of citizenship and personal responsibility across society.  
Financial fraud settlement funds are not government budgeted monies per se or even tax payer dollars but instead are used to fund further government fraud mitigation programs as well as benefit the general treasury of government. However, none of the national financial fraud funds has been targeted to address the importance of personal responsibility and ethical conduct.
We propose the Congress direct a small portion of settlement funds to a dedicated national educational ethics program. We come to this notion as a former securities regulator and private equity manager of troubled and fraudulent funds. Such a program can be guided and administered by the recently-established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) so as to promote ethics and ethical curricula within post-secondary education institutions, including professional graduate schools, as well as teaching the importance of ethical obligations in primary and secondary education.
Our proposal offers the following guidelines for consideration: (1) a non-partisan panel of educational, financial, consumer and business experts be established to propose how best to implement such a program; (2) any program is to be free of all ideological or political bias; (3) the panel’s work to be funded by an appropriation from financial fraud settlement funds; and (4) the award of any funds for the teaching of ethics in curricula is to be on a voluntary basis.
Funds could also be used in concert to leverage the few already established ethics education programs in the nation. The basic premise of our proposal is a correlation between the fact that fraudulent behavior causes the literal diminution of the world economy and a modest part of the financial fraud settlement funds be utilized to address the root cause of the matter.
Doing nothing will  mean no real change—consider that the settlement funds derived during 2002-2003 for financial fraud did nothing to affect the course or impact of the much more severe 2007-2010 financial crisis. It is time to act now and teach future generations that ethics matter – if only to diminish future economic blowups.
Business can be rough at times but it will be a better playground if we stop the endless games. Extending the lessons on how to play fair will be a boon to us all.
Mark Connolly is the former Director of Securities Regulation for the State of New Hampshire and Principal of New Castle Investment Advisors, and Mark DiSalvo is CEO of Semaphore, a leading global provider of Private Equity funds-under-management.

Topics: troubled funds, ethics, ethical standards, business, private equity

Time To Take Semaphore's Annual Confidence Survey

survey resized 600

Do you expect to make more personal compensation next year than this year?  Feeling more confident or less confident in the President’s Economic team as we left government shutdown and the most recent Fiscal Cliff behind? Thoughts on your boss and competitors?  Annually we ask our readers to weigh in and share their level of confidence in themselves, the economy and their businesses.  Last year we heard mixed levels of confidence – did it prove to be so? Especially as the stock market soared and reported PE values were up – albeit not as high as the Dow.

Semaphore is conducting its sixth annual survey of Private Equity and Venture Capital partners, principals and professionals supporting the industry. The purpose of this survey is to gather anonymous input from our industry friends and clients with the results fully reported to all. It will stay live until mid-January.

By participating you'll get to gauge your expectations with your peers, competitors and industry colleagues. The survey will take 2-3 minutes and respondent identity will not be reported to us.  Results will be published in Term Sheet and on our websitewww.sema4usa.com.  Dive in.

Click here  to take the survey.

Click here  to see last year's results.

Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), is a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: troubled funds, technology, Semaphore, Venture Capital

Zombie Funds

 Apocalyptic Future or Salvation?

A few days ago Luisa Beltran of PE Hub asked whether and what we should call the now popular appellation “Zombie Funds”.  I responded to her with the following:

“Here at Semaphore we call them “clients”.  No need for a pejorative characterization. It’s rather matter of fact.   Often it’s because GPs and LPs become mutually misaligned (for instance, when a carry hurdle may never be met it just makes sense for everyone to move on – the GPs to other career interests and the LPs knowingly recognizing that a better more attuned option exists to manage out the fund).

Yes, in some high profile cases it’s because of fraud or malfeasance of a GP that we find ourselves stepping into General Partnerships at the request of the LP.  Certainly those are the notorious examples.  Funny in that the GPs we replace become our best references.  Notwithstanding, generally it’s just good business judgment to let an entity such as Semaphore step in to “refresh” the relationships and more easily get the fund portfolio to perform until appropriate liquidation of the fund. The former GP moves on to other more potentially lucrative experiences, the LPs gets a more profitable eventual liquidation and everyone’s reputation is salvaged.  So let’s commonly drive a stake into the heart of the Zombie mischaracterization and understand that end of fund life sometimes requires good and compassionate hospice care.“ 

Here is the link to some other responses - PEHub.  Take a look.  If you want to discuss this or have a challenging fund situation please write me at mdisalvo@sema4usa.com.

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Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), is a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: troubled funds, equity, private equity funds, Semaphore, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, turnaround, LP

Beach Blanket Bingo?

Semaphore Has a New Markets Tax Credits Summer Project

Spring has finally made an appearance to New England after a long winter.  Hot summer days spent languishing at the beach; margaritas by the pool or skimming on the lake in a new boat are moving their way to the front of everyone’s minds.  No one thinks of stifling days surrounded by paperwork with the sun shining through the office window…you know, the one with the broken air conditioner. While summer is a time for relaxing and rejuvenating, the Semaphore staff is going to be reviewing projects, diligently negotiating contracts, finalizing deals and closing multi-party agreements in order to fulfill our latest allocation of New Markets Tax Credits funding.  

Semaphore has been operating Pacesetter CDE since 2010 and last year entered into an agreement with its majority shareholders, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, to acquire 100% of the stock of the firm.  We are pleased to announce that a $30 Million New Markets Tax Credit Allocation has been awarded to us in the latest round from the U.S. Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund.  Semaphore is one of just 85 Community Development Entities (CDEs) throughout the nation that has received an award this year.

The New Markets Tax Credit allocations have assisted hundreds of low-income communities with the help of private investment capital.  We are excited that our good fortune allows us to actively continue to participate in revitalizing communities and creating jobs to improve distressed areas around the nation. So…while you are enjoying your sun filled activities, keep us in mind if your beach towel discussions turn to equity investments in low income communities; we would love to hear about any projects in which you think we can assist. 

Have a safe and profitable summer!

Louise Martineau is the Director of Operations at Semaphore. Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com ) is a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds-under-management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit provider and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: investment, private equity funds, Semaphore, new markets tax credits, Announcements

Boston Lives

I had a lovely lunch at a great sushi place last week with a Limited Partner to whom I’d just become acquainted, nothing unusual there – except that the place is just a few runners strides from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was barely two days after the massacre in my city.  And just feet from us were a mob of live satellite trucks and a gang of media lined up cheek by jowl speaking into microphones with cameras trained on their faces, the background eerily quiet and barren. It was certainly strange seeing such a large and vibrant part of the city, some 15 blocks of Copley Square in the Back Bay cordoned off with an army of men and women wearing camo, carrying carbines and what felt like hundreds of others in white environmental suits clawing through every inch of the city’s streets and rooftop. The juxtaposition of my lunch and the sad events of hours earlier should have been alarming.  It felt rather normal, calming, and even necessary.

My new LP friend suggested we meet and support a neighborhood place that surely was bereft of business with such a wide swath of the city shut down and pall cast among patrons in the city.  We bantered with the server, asking “how is business” despite it being abundantly clear by the near empty place that should have been bustling at noon on a work day.  Our server answered that business was “dead”.  Odd word usage considering the circumstances of the day.  I know… I used to work in the restaurant biz and the phrase is always used to quite accurately describe the state of business at that moment in time.  Nonetheless, it was a bit jarring.

On the day after our lunch the President would be arriving nearby to speak at an interfaith service, thank volunteers, medical staff, and first responders.  He would comfort survivors in the hospitals scattered across Boston.  Boston is a living city.  That word, “living” should sound as strange as our server’s description of business. It did not. The city quite literally founded America.  It is North America’s most European city – in architecture and attitude.  Now it has taken on even more of a kinship as it suffers the senseless horrors of mad bombings similar to Madrid and London. I have personally experienced the atrocity of a terrorist bombing that leveled my hotel in Northern Ireland and have seen cars exploding in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  I never imagined such events would visit home.  One world indeed.

Our working lunch was full of business challenge, intellectual questioning, a bit of fun, a comparative of cities we’d lived and worked in, and discussions of family history.  Other than the initial interaction with our server we didn’t discuss or even intimate the existence of the horrid events displayed on every headline around the globe or the ongoing investigation just a few steps away.  It was unnecessary. Neither of us forgot it. We just needed to march on – for our own sake and the city’s.

Barely a day and half after that lunch the entire city and three neighboring cities were in lockdown  – not just a dozen+ blocks – through a long evening and into the next  watching a manhunt for the final suspect brother who had perpetrated the cowardly acts of blowing up the Boston Marathon. Within minutes of the brother being found there was another explosion – of relief, of thankfulness, of appreciation for the work of police and the remembered acts of heroism by the nurses, doctors and EMT’s, firefighters and police, volunteers and  spectators  who made things better because they were acting entirely normal at the time of the greatest need.  They were simply doing their jobs. 

On the very next day my family journeyed back to the site of the Marathon finishing line to pay personal honor at the roadside memorials littered with notes of condolence, of awe and appreciation. Now it is time for all us to honor them and go about doing our own unglamorous and comparatively unimportant jobs.  We are, in our own small way, responsible for a return to a new normalcy.  Boston is a living city – made more strongly vibrant by ever remembering but somehow still casting aside the terror that visited her this third Monday of April.

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After the horrific events of this past week, our prayers go out to all of the victims, volunteers, medical staff and those who responded and stayed diligent to the end in finding those responsible. I would like to take this opportunity to suggest sending a donation to the One Fund Boston. Information can be found by visiting the One Fund website at http://onefundboston.org/ .

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

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Topics: limited partners, LP

Results of Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

 Self-Confident PE v Congressional Follies

By Mark S. DiSalvo

 

The Semaphore Confidence Survey respondents are truly prescient.  If America had only listened to our results last year it would have saved the American people over a Billion dollars in advertisements and political machinations in the just concluded presidential campaign.  Exactly twelve months ago some 47% of our respondents had confidence in Mitt Romney (funny, that number).  Game over.  Then again, only 39% were confident in President Obama.   Let’s see what Nate Silver can do with this year’s results!

While Romney is off the political grid and despite the big re-election, only 33% of respondents expressed confidence in the President with 37% stating a lack of confidence in him. That is decidedly better than his principal newest political foe, Speaker John Boehner, who “enjoys” a 3% favorable v 64% unfavorable rating. Those abysmal ratings are only superseded by Congress as a whole with nearly 80% expressing no or little confidence in our elected officials laboring under the Capitol Dome with not a single expression of confidence by any respondent.

In contrast some 78% of our respondents are confident in themselves and 43% remain confident in the PE/VC Industry with only 18% expressing some lack of confidence in how they earn a living. Personal confidence slipped a bit from last year’s results of 81%. Confidence in the US economy has slipped from last year, 37% to 46% and degraded even more with the International economy as the preponderance of those with little or no confidence grew from 47% last year to 57% today.  This seems a bit counterintuitive in that the number and size of expected deals appear significantly up by those self-reporting their expected investment objectives.  Further proofed by the fact that 65% earned more income last year than in 2011 and fully 57% expect to earn yet again more income than in 2012 - they’re going to need it to pay higher taxes.

Continuing the reversal of a trend prior to last year, my industry colleagues continue to see the prospect of more income, more deal flow and high confidence in themselves, their peers, and industry. This clear read comparing the raw highlight data from the 5th annual Semaphore Confidence Survey with last year’s results affords some fascinating insight across business and politics.

And in what is the group investing?  Enterprise Software replaced Social/Community Technology for the top spot with the latter moving down to third and Financial Services moving from eighth to 2nd this year.  Health Care Services moved from third to 4th with Digital Media rounding out the top five.  For the second year in a row, Sustainable Energy/Cleantech (for the first three years of our survey in the top five) failed to make the top ten.  On-line Consumer Retail and Gaming went from 4th and 5th to 9th and 10th.

The distribution of respondents in the US stayed remarkably the same from past years - the top six were CA, MA, NJ, NY, CT, TX, with only NY and NJ swapping places. Our US respondents had reasonable confidence in their state governments with 28% expressing confidence - that must look like heaven to the US Congress even though it is down from 37% last year.   

International responses were quite different.  We had our widest ever distribution of respondents with only the UK remaining on top with 27% of all international survey-takers with  Canada, China and France rounding-out the top four.  Russia, Japan, Switzerland and Germany were knocked out of last year’s top five. International respondents had crushingly poor opinions of their governments with the same 74% having no or little confidence in their countries leaders, up 3% from the 2011 survey and more than double the 31% of three years ago. 

The over 470 who did reply this year, up slightly from last year, were weighted a bit differently than  prior years’ mix of VC (39%  this year v 28% last year), Buy-out pros (24% v 33%), Limited Partners (13% v 11%) operating executives (6% v 19%) and third party professional 18% v 12%).

Comments this year were generally policy oriented and in a serious vein.  Some can be viewed on the raw data highlight link below.  There was one comment I’ll share in full from either a jokester or savant – or both:

“I met a fairy who said she would grant me one wish.  Immediately I said, "I want to live forever." "Sorry," said the fairy, "I'm not allowed to grant eternal life." "OK," I said, "Then, I want to die after Congress gets its head out of its ass!" The fairy replied, "You crafty bastard."  12/26/2012 2:14 PM

Maybe this individual should run for Congress.

See you next year.

To see the highlights of the results of the 2013 Semaphore Confidence Survey please click here.  If you want to do your own comparison, the 2012 Semaphore Confidence Survey results are here.

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Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: entrepreneurs, equity, investment, Business Operations, private equity funds, Semaphore, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, VC

An Office Lunch Table Thanksgiving Tale

 Leftovers and gratitude - a new Semaphore tradition.

By Mark S. DiSalvo

At my Thanksgiving Day table we go around the room and ask each family member (31 this year) to relate just what it is for which they are most grateful.  Responses are variously funny (“my big nose so I can better enjoy the smell of that wonderful pecan and pumpkin pie” or “I’m especially pleased to be taller than my runt older cousin who always tortured me when I was a kid”); poignant (“that Mother’s dementia has allowed her to forget the pain of the past year and simply enjoy our family get together”) and variously serious (getting into a favorite university, the blessing of a new child, etc.).  I’m sure it’s a tradition or experience that many other families enjoy.

On the Monday after the holiday, with my colleagues at our office lunch table, it was noted how I had not written a biz blog post for a couple of months. We agreed I should highlight the recent transaction where we acquired a New Markets Tax Credit platform and trumpet the recent investments. Somehow we got off on the tangent of family Thanksgiving expressions of gratitude.  It struck us that we don’t do the same at work as we do in our homes.  When the gang started discussing that very fact, we went from voicing gratitude for our good fortune to have interesting careers to bemoaning those, some of our relatives and friends that are up against it and pressed economically, in unproductive careers or who don’t have the privilege of a job at all. We discovered, in conversation, that our successes, in and of themselves are unimportant but that true satisfaction came in helping others get the same emotional fulfillment that we enjoy when we turnaround a fund or help a portfolio company earn a new customer. We were amazed to discover we’ve supported the creation of a few thousand jobs over the past decade and resolved, collectively, to see how we can ensure that the dignity of work is afforded to even more people as we continue to invest and nurture our current and future portfolio.  The discussion turned to taxes and universally, albeit some of  my colleagues begrudgingly,  we understood that the moaning about an increase in marginal tax rates and an expected upping of capital gain was a tiny price for the benefit of our  Semaphore Team working together and doing so in this engagingly challenging industry in a great country. Experiencing the ancillary profits of hard work as satisfaction, in and of itself, as well as the emotional stimulation of assisting entrepreneurs and stakeholders alike, we realized, was the true reason we labor. Sure, we like the monetary success but the sense of accomplishment when a business liquidates on its own terms and seeing the unadulterated joy of an entrepreneur actually accomplishing a dream is our most sustaining payoff.

Bottom line, we are privileged indeed.  I think we’ll start a new tradition.  Lunch table Thanksgiving. Nothing goes better with left-over turkey and stuffing sandwiches (with cranberry sauce, of course).  Try it – establishing the tradition of asking your colleagues about what makes them grateful at work.  You might find a new motivation and a reason to believe in yourself. The sandwich isn’t too bad either – lighter on the mayo next year.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: investment, new markets tax credits, portfolio company, turnaround

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