When Nigel Doughty was found dead on Feb. 4, apparently after suffering a heart attack, the private equity firm he co-founded with Dick Hanson in 1985 was poised to submit its final €355 million ($468.3 million) bid for Spanish medical group USP Hospitales SL. But his death, at 54, triggered a key-man clause and the automatic suspension of the firm's funds.
That his colleagues at Doughty Hanson & Co. were dry-eyed and determined enough to contact their limited partners in time to release the funds to clinch the deal should come as no surprise. Doughty would have applauded their speed and pragmatism. In the world of finance -- Doughty's world -- personal tragedy cannot be allowed to get in the way of a wealth manager's duty to its investors.
The London firm's successes over the past quarter century, not only in Britain, but also in continental Europe and the United States, were due in large part to the tough professionalism of the two founders, who had been working together in the specialist finance division of Standard Chartered plc before striking out on their own.
Doughty Hanson's funds invest in buyouts -- often turnarounds of struggling businesses, technology ventures and property -- and the firm is one of Europe's leading private equity managers. Doughty Hanson has invested about €23 billion across more than 100 deals, and Nigel Doughty's own wealth has been reported at about £130 million ($204.8 million).
But there was more to Doughty than wealth creation. A working-class boy from a housing project in Newark, England, he was a big Labour Party donor. Last year he added his voice to calls for higher taxes on wealthy Brits, if President Barack Obama proved successful in introducing a so-called Buffett tax in the U.S. for those earning over $1 million.
The Financial Times quoted Doughty saying: "One of the things we in the Labour party have to grasp is that technology is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Maybe we have to go back to some sort of progressive tax system."
Both personally and through the Doughty Hanson Charitable Foundation, Doughty gave substantial sums to charity. He gave a £1 million donation to the local hospital where his mother had worked as a nurse and was a particular supporter of children's charities such as NSPCC ChildLine, which provides a free 24-hour help line for children in distress or danger. His firm was also a keen promoter of responsible and philanthropic venture groups such as Bridges Ventures LLP, the firm set up by former Apax Partners LLP chief Ronald Cohen.
Doughty Hanson was reportedly the first private equity firm to sign on to a United Nations charter on responsible investment, calling on investors to take into account social, environmental and corporate governance issues rather than focus entirely on short-term profit. He endowed and named the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at his alma mater, Cranfield School of Management, and was an active member of the school's advisory board and a president of the school's charitable trust.
To the British public at large, he was much better known as the owner and sometime chairman of his local soccer team, Nottingham Forest Football Club, which he bought for £11 million in 1999 as it was poised to enter bankruptcy administration. Over the course of his long involvement with the club, he is estimated to have donated and lent an estimated £100 million to keep the team afloat and hire good managers and players.
A lifelong and passionate fan (he once told the club supporters' website he attended his first game at the age of 7 or 8), he preferred to sit among the ordinary supporters on the terraces rather than take up a seat in the directors' box.
But his ambition to restore Forest to its former glory as a Premier League club was never fulfilled. Sadly, the fans turned on him last year after a string of losses and poor performance by Steve McClaren, the latest manager he'd picked to revive the club's fortunes. He accepted McClaren's resignation -- though not before McClaren had accused him of not being prepared to spend enough on new players -- and then stepped down as club chairman. The ugly scenes he had to endure included fans spitting on his car and plenty of foul-mouthed abuse.
Yet his commitment to the club remained undiminished. As former Forest star Garry Birtles wrote in a tribute, it has emerged that one of Doughty's last acts was to put in place about £23 million to make sure that the player contracts committed to during his tenure would all be honored.
Doughty's son Michael, 19, plays professional soccer for Premier League team Queen's Park Rangers Football Club. Nigel Doughty was married twice, and leaves three other children.