Giving investment clubs the personal touch

IN these difficult economic times wealthy individuals have become intensely focused on wealth preservation, circling the wagons to protect what they have while continuing to look for opportunities to create new riches through canny investments. It was somewhat surprising then to find David Giampaolo in ebullient form this week as he prepares for the latest Pi Capital reception.

Despite the word Pi’s links to geometry, the private equity group has nothing to do with circles, however. It stands for Private Investors and has become the byword for the kind of super-exclusive club which focuses on the finer things in life such as travel, philanthropy and the arts.

Giampaolo, the American-born chief executive who has lived in the UK for 22 years, has organised a packed programme for 2010 that will see Pi’s 300 members gather to meet each other, swap ideas and advice and discuss investment opportunities. Despite the downturn it appears that Pi Capital is as popular as ever and Giampaolo is upbeat about Pi’s immediate and longer term future.

The membership list is understood to include such business luminaries as Brent Hoberman, Jon Moulton and Sir Stuart Rose. Each member pays £4,000 a year to gain access to an exclusive series of social events, with those organised for the coming weeks including a breakfast with former prime minister Sir John Major, dinner with London Stock Exchange chief executive Xavier Rolet and a visit to Brazil. Such guestlists have meant Giampaolo has been labelled London’s networking king – a title he hates.

But it’s not all about socialising the investment side of Pi carries equal importance, Giampaolo explains, with groups of members – sometimes 20, other times more than 45 – choosing to take up the chance to invest their own money in a venture suggested by Pi. Among the opportunities currently being circulated to members or about to be publicised are a prime London commercial property, an early stage technology investment and a renewable transport fuel start-up.

The beauty of Pi is that the kind of investment opportunities normally reserved for large institutions are available to individual investors on an opt-in basis. Key to Pi’s appeal lies in Giampaolo’s decision when he bought Pi in 2002 to combine the investment company with a membership club.

It is a formula he believes would easily transfer to other markets – although he insists New York is already well catered for with such investor clubs so an American outpost is not on the cards.

Instead, Giampaolo has his eye on an expansion of Pi that will begin in India this year and could feasibly see the group open up other operations in Asia, South America and the Middle East. These clubs will be smaller than the UK’s 300-strong membership at first but can still be expected to boast a core of like-minded and very wealthy individuals with an interest in Pi’s brand of carefully crafted peer-to-peer events.