Entrepreneurial journeys: Owen Trotter
University of York alumni Owen Trotter has been a professional investor for over 30 years in the UK, Europe and North America.
For the last 15 years he has run his own investment company Key Capital Partners (KCP) which has invested approximately £200 million into 26 different businesses.
Key Capital Partners is one of the most experienced private equity teams in the UK and the leading player in the smaller buy-out market.
Having graduated in Economics from the University of York in 1992, Owen Trotter trained as a Chartered Accountant in London. He got his first private equity job in 1998 and worked in the UK, Germany and Canada over the next nine years.
“I thought that was it. I was settled in Canada and my career was successfully on track. Then, someone I had worked with 10 years previously, rang and asked if I wanted to set up our own private equity firm. We identified a third person to work with and that was the beginning of Key Capital Partners. That phone call in 2006 was the catalyst that saw me leaving my plum job at the biggest bank in Canada for an empty serviced office in Cambridge.”
By co-owning his own firm, it’s given Owen the opportunity to do Private Equity the way he believes it should be done.
"Being part of a small team means that I get involved in all areas of the business including making investments, sitting on company boards, speaking to our investors and managing our own business. It’s exciting to work in such a fast-moving environment with people I respect and trust.
"The financial crash of 2007/08, Brexit and Covid all created significant challenges for our business and forced us to alter our plans and strategies. Half of the money in our second fund came from European investors restricted to investing in the EU, so as a result of Brexit, they weren’t able to invest in our third fund, so we lost half of our customers. Brexit also impacted the performance of some of our businesses. We were determined to persevere and had to be creative to overcome these obstacles and to identify the opportunities arising from changed market conditions.
“Pre-Covid, we had made a decision not to invest in certain sectors, like tourism, which were hit badly when the pandemic struck. We had concentrated on tech and healthcare, so were actually well-positioned.
“Sometimes, it can feel as though you’re battling uphill, a little engine going up against the ‘big guys’, but it’s exactly that ability to keep going that you need. Driving forward with what you know is the right thing, even though you get knocked off course and get disheartened. It’s hard work but tenacity is key.
"I am where I am today because I didn’t get the grade I wanted at university and saw that as failure. But you can turn failure into an opportunity. I turned to accountancy and then private equity. That’s not the career path I had originally seen for myself but I am happy with what I’ve done.
“Co-founding Key Capital Partners in 2007 was probably the bravest and most satisfying thing I have done in my career to date. It has given me a real insight into the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur.
“The best thing about working in Private Equity is that when you’re successful everyone wins, you create returns for investors, help entrepreneurs deliver their visions, create sustainable jobs and satisfy customers while contributing to society through the tax system.
"Despite challenging national and world events, over the last 15 years, KCP has invested about £200 million into 26 different companies, delivering market leading returns for our investors and creating over 3,000 jobs. We have offices in Leeds and London. We have also added around £200 million to pension pots in the public sector. We're currently investing our third fund and planning our fourth."
Words of advice
“Always remember that what you do and say reflects on your brand, so if you want to be known as honest, truthful and straightforward, be that every day - even when it may not be in your best interest.
“Our relationships with investors and portfolio companies are based on honesty and trust and I really enjoy working in an environment where we are all pulling in the same direction with the aim of building great businesses.”
"Most people will have a couple of opportunities to do something extraordinary or different in their lives and you’ve got to be prepared to take it. If I hadn’t taken the leap, I could still be at the Royal Bank of Canada.
"Also, work very hard and surround yourself with good people, ideally people better than yourself.
"And finally, if you ever don't understand something, you shouldn't be afraid to ask someone to explain it to you. You won't be the only person in the room who's baffled."
Find out how Enterprise Works could help you on your entrepreneurial journey.