IMD steers Luc Gerard into successful private equity career path
When Luc Gerard did his IMD EMBA at the age of 34, he already had several years of experience with two top international corporations. Born in Boende to a Congolese mother and a Belgian agronomist father, he was able to pursue higher studies, first in Kinshasa and then in Brussels, thanks to the encouragements of an enlightened teacher. It wasn’t an easy ride and in a recent interview with the Libre Belgique, he lists the many jobs he did on the way to, or just after, securing his qualification as a commercial engineer at ICHEC in Brussels. These included cleaning offices and sewers, being a barman, a cook and media planner, as well as an unsuccessful attempt to revive plantations in his own country.
Following a first corporate job with Caterpillar, where he says he learned a great deal, he was hired by Philip Morris in Lausanne. “I held many jobs in several countries, the US, Spain, Uruguay and finally in Colombia, where I was appointed Managing Director of the local headquarters in 2003. The following year, we bought out Coltabaco and, as a result, Philip Morris’s market share soared from 2% to 55%.”
But when his employer proposed another move, Gerard, his wife and three children had become travel weary, so they decided to stay put. Gerard planned to strike out on his own with a project to buy out local SMEs. “But I had no personal wealth, and a major problem in developing countries is the inefficiency of capital markets. At that time there were no active investment funds in Colombia and foreign investors considered the country to be too dangerous.”
Launching into private equity
“It was Benoît Leleux, my finance professor at IMD, who opened my eyes to the world of private equity and who pushed me in 2007 to use the entrepreneurial skills I had learned to set up my own fund, Tribeca, with pension funds as investors. The idea to raise USD $130 million to finance SMEs was well received and now there are 75 other funds like ours in Colombia.”
Ten years later, Gerard’s skills as an asset manager have resulted in a capital gain of USD $500 million and he says it’s time to move on again.
“We are currently evolving toward a family office/holding structure with a higher concentration of investments geared toward high social impact, but that can also be very profitable when managed well,” he says.
In 2014 he and his associates green-fielded a hospital operations business targeted at low-income populations which has generated more than USD $100 million in revenue this year (2016).
“I take a personal interest in investing in Africa, especially in education and utilities. These are all areas in which private funding can help find solutions. Since 2014, we have created more than 3,000 new jobs in Latin American with positive results, both financial and social. In 2016 we acquired our first three hospitals in DRC with a total of 450 beds,” he says.
About his experience at IMD Gerard says: “IMD for me acted as a trigger. My desire to become an entrepreneur was always there and like many high level executives we sort of feel we have what it takes. But we keep postponing the decision, and very often never act on it. At IMD with the entrepreneurship courses and in particular with the help of Benoît Leleux, who focuses on concrete examples of both failed and successful entrepreneurs. The urge became unbearable. It helped put in perspective the cost of failure and gave me that extra boost of confidence to take the step.”