Ronald Cohen opensn a Big Society account

SIR Ronald Cohen was yesterday unveiled as an adviser to David Cameron’s Big Society Bank, which will support social enterprises. It also sees the deepening involvement in social investment of the man credited with inventing the British private equity industry some 40 years ago.

After Oxford and Harvard Business School, followed by a short stint as a management consultant at McKinsey, Cohen and a few colleagues started Apax Partners in 1972.

The firm went on to pioneer venture capitalism in the UK investing in over 500 companies and becoming one of the few British outfits to become a global force in the industry.

Some of the firms it put cash into include AOL, Pret a Manager, Yell, and PPL Therapeutics, the company that cloned Dolly the sheep.

However, since 2000 Cohen, a Jew born in Egypt who fled during the Suez crisis in 1957, has become increasingly interested in social investment.

Cohen, with an estimated wealth of £200m, is also said to have the best political contacts book in British business.

In the 1970s he twice stood as an unsuccessful national and European candidate for the Liberal Party. In the 1990s he became a supporter of Tony Blair’s New Labour and made large donations.

He recently said: “Professional private equity firms came into existence [to] get institutional investors to invest in venture funds. [Now] we want to connect the capital markets to the social sector.”