Doing God’s work in the City

Kathleen Brooks
LLOYD Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, caused a stir when he said the bank was doing “God’s work”. Well, perhaps he should meet Mark Speeks, the managing partner and co-founder of Acuity Capital, a private equity firm based in the City, who is also an assistant priest at St Botolph’s church in Aldgate.

Our interview takes place in a pew underneath the vaulted ceilings of St Botolph’s. Speeks, who is not wearing his dog collar, holds his BlackBerry in one hand and starts by explaining how he manages the tension between his two roles: “Faith is about recognising the reality in front of us. It’s the same in business. For instance, when you have to restructure a business you need to be as honest as possible, if you are cutting jobs, you hope that, in the long term, you are positioning the business for a better future.”

After starting his career in the City as an analyst with Panmure Gordon, the investment bank, in 1983, he then moved on to roles in Paris, New York and Washington before he decided to take the plunge in 1999 and go to the Yale Divinity School to train to become a priest. After three years of training he was ordained in New York and then moved to the California to become the chaplain of UCLA. Eventually, with funds running low, he had to go back to work and returned to the UK in 2003.

That was when he made his foray into private equity, working for Electra Partners Group, where he worked for the small companies team. Acuity Capital was formed from a management buy out in February 2008. Speeks has big ideas for the company this year. Acuity Capital has launched a new environmental venture capital trust, worth £120m, focusing on organic waste recycling in the UK.

Acuity now has nine staff, an increase of three since the company was founded. Speeks rejects the criticism of the City and private equity that has erupted since the start of the financial crisis: “The facts are that private equity has worked well and more wealth has been created to be taxed and deployed for social ends.” Acuity Capital’s other investments include Loseley’s Dairy Ice Cream and De Faqto – a financial data provider, all of which it plans to hold for three to five years. He says its guiding investment principle is minimising risk and providing investors with the safest investment: “We won’t find the next Microsoft, but we will have robust companies with solid earnings growth.”
Age: 47

Home: City of London

Drives: Volkswagon Golf 1.6: “A banged out old thing.”

Work experience:
Panmure Gordon 1983-1989
Credit Commercial de France 1989-1995
Charterhouse Bank: 1995-1996
Lepercq de Neuflize: 1996-1997
US Foodservice: 1997-1999
Electra Partners Group: 2003-2008
Reading: Storms Of War: “It’s a history of World War Two.”

Giving up for Lent: “I try to eat fish on a Friday.”

Army: Pending approval to join the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department.