E&Y appoints regional private equity head

Ernst & Young veteran John Harley has landed a top private equity role and he is looking forward to helping advance the transparency debate surrounding sovereign wealth funds.

Ernst & Young has appointed John Harley to head of private equity for Northern Europe, Middle East, India and Africa. 

John Harley:
debating sovereign

John Harley will be reporting to Thomas McGrath, the head of his region and he will be in close contact with Simon Perry, the firm’s head of global private equity.

The big four accountant has reorganised regionally in an effort to consolidate its European and worldwide business.

As part of his role Harley will be coordinating the firm’s resources to meet the private equity needs of sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East. Harley said sovereign wealth funds are attempting to find the most efficient way to invest as they experiment beyond their traditionally equity-based approach and make steps into alternative assets.

The sovereign wealth funds debate on transparency is different to the issues surrounding private equity, he said.  “There is a mystique about them because they’re foreign government-owned. What does that mean? In some cases they represent the investments of a sovereign power and some cases the country’s pension funds investing in private equity.”

He said the Dubai Ports controversy, where US political pressure was applied to stop Dubai government-owned DP World’s acquisition of UK ferry company P&O’s US business, indicated the different approaches for various governments. “It wasn’t an issue for the UK and it was for the US. We don’t want to make political judgements but want to understand how capital flows freely. Let’s get the transparency clear and let’s see what it all means.”

He said this seems to have worked in the case of private equity, where the Walker report has alleviated some political pressure on the asset class and had brought greater clarity. 

As the worldwide credit crunch puts deals on hold Ernst & Young is spending more time working with private equity portfolio companies. “We’re going away from people doing transactions and we’re on a sort of pause whilst people check what they’ve got and prices adjust.”

Harley returns to the division having spent three years as global vice-chairman of the company’s accounts, industries and business development division.

Harley is a qualified chartered accountant and he joined Ernst & Young in 2000 as global leader of technology, media & telecoms corporate finance practice. From 2003 until September 2005 he then ran the firm’s TMT European team.