OWNING UP TO OWN YOUR FUTURE

"TPG has an image problem right now," claimed Founding Partner, David Bonderman, according to press reports [1]. The other FP, Jim Coulter [2], was recently quoted as saying that private equity markets are undergoing a titanic shift [3].

I believe there is no image problem: while private equity markets are maturing, that's not what’s essential here. What's happening is the market telling TPG that they missed the signs of transformation and this radical skepticism towards how the market is could lead them into reacting  rather than shaping TPG’s course of action.

It's easy to see how large companies become myopic, believing yesterday is a good indication of what will happen tomorrow. Everyone can name a company that dominated once and is now gone. The market is chastising TPG because as the world's largest private equity firm it should be different. They're a firm whose value is to anticipate market changes and invest in the future. TPG's decision to willfully ignore their own public communications and branding may prove difficult to overcome.

TPG's at a crossroads. Where should they go from here? Options abound, including:

1. Continue as they are, claiming it's a transitory reflection, using in-house resources and their bias toward silence in hopes the market will keep their past reputation alive.

2. Slow the fallout by hiring an big agency who'll come in and focus group their brand so TPG can acquire a new veneer—aping the homogenized look of Goldman, Blackstone or CVC. 

3. Acknowledge they missed the change, look inward and take the time to understand how they matter in today's market. This could mean hiring a consultant to work with them on positioning for future relevancy.

When looking for advice, does one poll a thousand different sources or do they find the most trustworthy expert (e.g., a Warren Buffet)? Whatever TPG decides to do, I hope they take the advice of venture capitalist (and ex-RISD president) John Maeda, "Logo's don't matter." [4] It's true. Strategic design thinking should focus on the client experience and the business itself, it's not about the look of those three letters—it's what those letters make you think of, how they make you feel. 

As TPG found out, if you don’t manage your market positioning, the market will position you. The lesson here is that your brand exists and it changes all the time, take control and listen to your public (so you can decide if and when to go public). 

 

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1] WSJ; Business Insider, February 12, 2015.

2] Full disclosure: I have done minor design work for TPG as a third-party and separately, years ago, I worked with Penny Coulter on a number of design initiatives & Penny is a super star: clear eyed, clear headed and smart. 

3] Private Equity News, February 24, 2015; WSJ February 24, 2015.

4] GigaOM Roadmap Conference, November 19, 2014.