Why every firm needs a Facebook

Kathleen Brooks
BACK when they started out in the corporate world Mike Powell and Ken Yeadon can remember a time when computers were rare. That was back in the mid 1980s when they both started work in HSBC’s trading department. A quarter of a century later and things have changed. Now, through their private equity company Thematic Capital Partners, both men are helping to develop social networks for the workplace.

Yeadon and Powell are the only investors in Thematic. Their grand vision is to create social networks that will allow companies’ employees all over the world to work together more easily on projects, to share ideas and to enhance intra-company communication.

Thematic was formed in March 2008 and invests in the technology companies that create these social networks. The theory guiding its investment principle is that millions of young people around the world communicate using Facebook and Twitter and so once they enter the workplace, channels of communication like these will be more effective at bringing them together than dragging them half-way round the world into meeting rooms.

So, why leave the bosom of one of the last well-respected global banks? Powell says that working for HSBC in Hong Kong for 10 years exposed him to an “entrepreneurial society.” In 2007 he decided to start something on his own. That doesn’t mean that he fell into being his own boss easily. Far from the chauffeur driven cars and first class air travel he was used to at HSBC, his first day as his own boss was a wake up call when he had to buy paper for the printer.

Usually Powell and Yeadon take an advisory role in the companies they invest in. However, Yeadon is taking a more hands on role with their new baby, Hedgehogs.net, a social network cum market place for the financial community. The concept is a bit like iTunes: people offer financial products they want to sell and Hedgehogs.net hooks them up with potential buyers.

“This technology is for a post-crisis world,” says Yeadon. “Lots of people don’t work for big financial institutions any more so we can help them to sell their products to the boutique institutions that have sprung up since the credit crisis.”

They are not on a simple mission. It’s going to take a long time to persuade the corporate world of the benefits of a social network – many currently ban sites like Facebook. But, they are both in this for the long haul. “We don’t just want to invest in something and then flog it in a couple of years,” says Yeadon. “We want to look back and say: ‘We did this.’”