Sir Steven
Wilkinson KCNG

Sir Steven Wilkinson

Founder & Visionary of Good & Prosper

Steven is an investment venture capitalist and business developer focussed on identifying, nurturing and developing nascent alternative asset management businesses in niche and/or anti-cyclical operating asset investment themes.

Together with partners, Steven has completed some eight transactions since 2002 in such diverse fields as residential real estate, industrial technology, mid-market buyout, growth mezzanine financing, student accommodation and med-tech / healthcare.

Altogether, the investment structures thus co-created have accumulated around €1 billion in assets under management. He recently launched Germany's first publicly listed investment holding for mid-market insolvencies.

A recognised expert in strategy and financing, Steven runs an investment and advisory practice from his base in Wicklow to think, talk and advise SMEs on the issues of strategy, leadership and culture. He co-founded the International Small Giants Community, is an advisory board member of the Three Coins Initiative, Vienna and an Ashoka Support Network Member.

“...to nurture and develop extraordinary businesses that seem to produce unheard of levels of prosperity”

Good and Prosper

I have spent the last 30 years working in finance, mostly at the side of entrepreneurs and owners of wealth. The last 18 years have been spent running my own balance sheet as an investor in and developer of businesses, trying (and sometimes succeeding) to combine my intellectual attraction to the philosophy of value investing as espoused by Benjamin Graham and my love of small and medium-sized enterprises and the people who run them, which often has me more in the role of venture capitalist (in the old-fashioned sense of the word), than of strictly passive capitalist. The area in which I seem to have found the happiest middle ground is that of restructuring and distressed investing, where I have spent most of the last 15 years. I am also a founding member of a US-based business owners association called the "International Small Giants Community - Companies that choose to be Great instead of Big” (www.smallgiants.org) in which I have been able to observe and learn from outstanding small and mid-sized businesses and their owners, who manage to nurture and develop extraordinary businesses that seem to produce unheard of levels of prosperity (in our definition) for all associated with them. (We are currently setting up an irish Small Giants chapter.)

By watching at close hand what goes wrong with companies and how entrepreneurs and “mittelstand” business owners can destroy their own businesses and their personal prosperity with them and by contrasting them and their actions with the excellent paragons of entrepreneurial virtue, I have been able to develop a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t and, at the ripe old age of 53, have a well-founded philosophy of how to live a good life as an entrepreneur, as well as an equally clear clear picture on what habits and practices inevitably lead to disaster. Tolstoy starts Anna Karenina with the observation “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and I think that applies to businesses as well, although the unhappy businesses are decidedly more alike than unhappy families.

I have been particularly impressed by the enormous success of certain german mittelstand companies, who seem to have a knack for identifying micro-niches and building outstanding international businesses within them, often taking over 80% market share and locking themselves into unassailable positions for decades by diving deeper and deeper into the core problems of their customers and passing on their productivity gains through highly competitive pricing, excellent relationships with their suppliers and above average wages and benefits for their (very long term) employees and associates. (I have several examples of these hidden champions doing unbelievable things, such as paying their suppliers on the day the invoices arrive without taking any early payment discounts as a matter of principle!). The strategy process outlined above has been adapted from a method used countless tines by a particular post-war generation of german entrepreneurs and developed by an incredible, but mostly unknown german business thinker called Wolfgang Mewes, who sadly died last December at the age of 93. He developed a postal course of 20 lessons for entrepreneurs on strategy in the 1950s and 60s, which was often the only business training that generation of entrepreneurs and founders had, but which proved immensely ffective. It more or less disappeared when he sold the rights to a newspaper in the mid 1980s and I came across it - and him - about ten years ago and have been applying the thinking and methodology to our portfolio companies ever since, adopting and adapting his thinking for our 21st century business challenges and learning from him from numerous visits over the last decade.

Good & Prosper is, therefore, my synthesis of all the observations, methods, philosophies and frustrations I have experienced as a poet who somehow wandered into the business world through the finance door and has been trying to make sense of the world he has had to live in, whilst half-heartedly looking for the exit.