Meet the changemakers who helped shape private debt

As we look back on 10 years of extraordinary growth for the asset class, we select 30 of the pivotal figures in private debt’s evolution. Here are our first 15 Changemakers.

With annual deployment now reaching north of $100 billion and the size of some individual loans now in excess of the $1 billion mark, private debt has truly come of age. But, from its cottage industry origins prior to the global financial crisis, the remarkable growth of the asset class would not have happened without the equally remarkable contributions of some of its leading figures.

In pulling together this collection of 30 of the industry’s “Changemakers”, we have drawn upon some of our prior rankings, such as “Most Influential” and “Women of Influence”, but have added some new names as well. Of course, with an almost unlimited number of contenders, it’s not possible to be scientific in our assessment of who belongs on the list and who doesn’t. Nonetheless, we have striven to make the list as credible as possible, while recognising a range of different types of achievement.

So what qualifies anyone for “Changemaker” status? Again, there’s little room for science but plenty for imagination and flexibility. It might involve driving forward an area of speciality finance (such as maritime or consumer loans), developing cutting-edge approaches to ESG, or being the LP that decided to place private debt firmly at the heart of strategic allocations. All these examples and plenty more are represented in our top 30.

Below are our changemakers listed in alphabetical order from A-G.
Click here to see those listed G-Z

Michael Arougheti, Ares Management

Arougheti led Ares Capital Corporation through the global financial crisis and ultimately capitalised on an opportunity the episode presented: the $648 million acquisition of Allied Capital. One of the earliest big BDC mergers, it set the stage for the transactions that followed, including Ares Capital’s purchase of American Capital, overseen by now-chief executive Kipp deVeer and valued at north of $3 billion, which is the biggest BDC merger to date.

“So, when American Capital presented itself, we literally had an M&A playbook that we had developed across the entire Ares Management platform,” Arougheti previously told PDI, partially referencing the Allied Capital transaction. Arougheti has played a central role as Ares has established itself as a major player in private debt over the last decade. In 2022, the firm topped our PDI 100 ranking of the industry’s biggest fundraisers, with more than $100 billion of capital raised over a rolling five-year period.

Gretchen Bergstresser, CVC Credit

As partner and global head of performing credit at CVC Capital Partners, Bergstresser leads a team of more than 30 credit investment professionals across New York and London. Under her guidance, Bergstresser’s team experienced strong growth during 2021, achieving seven new CLOs with a total value of over €3 billion, and 17 resets and refinancings exceeding €6.5 billion in aggregate.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Bergstresser has held positions at Eaton Vance, Bank of Boston and ING. In 2016, she was elected to sit on the board of directors for the Loan Syndications and Trading Association for two terms.

Paul Burdell, LCM Partners

A US national, Burdell was at the forefront of bringing consumer and SME loan investment on a huge scale to the European market through Link Financial Group and LCM Partners, which, through an impressive servicing infrastructure, manages around 4,700 portfolios, according to its website. But Burdell has made his mark in other ways too, as a senior adviser to the European Central Bank from 2008-16 on its ABS Loan Level initiative, and as architect and co-founder of the European Data Warehouse. Formerly an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase, he went on to form Octagon Group, one of Europe’s largest distressed corporate debt investors, in 1987. Burdell’s wife, Selina, LCM’s co-founder, was a PDI Woman of Influence in 2021.

Coralie de Maesschalck, Kartesia

There was a time when ESG and private debt were not particularly well acquainted, back when private equity was seen as the front-seat driver of operational change while debt providers were simply along for the ride. Those days are long gone. One indication of the change has been the evolution of sustainability-linked loans and the inclusion of various targets that borrowers need to hit to prove their ESG credentials and obtain economic rewards. Another indication has been dedicated ESG roles held within private debt firms – and one of the prominent occupants of such a role is Kartesia’s de Maesschalck. She took a newly created full-time CSR and ESG role at the firm in 2021, having been head of portfolio and ESG since 2015. Brussels-based de Maesschalck is in charge of CSR initiatives at the corporate level and ESG criteria at the portfolio level.

Kerry Dolan, Brinley Partners

Having only founded Brinley Partners in 2021, Dolan has already made her mark, securing a $3 billion commitment from a large Canadian pension fund as the anchor investor for the firm’s first fund and co-invest vehicle. As founder and managing partner, she is committed to making Brinley an inclusive workplace that welcomes people of all backgrounds.

Dolan has more than 25 years of investing and leveraged finance experience, and is an associate board member of the Melanoma Research Alliance and co-chair of the Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma event. Prior to forming Brinley, Dolan was managing director of principal debt and credit investments at PSP Investments for five-and-a-half years.

Nicole Downer, MV Credit

As managing partner and head of investor solutions, Downer spearheads all fundraising and product development efforts at MV Credit. She closed the firm’s first commingled senior debt fund and oversaw the launch of an open-end private debt solution. An advocate for equality, Downer has been instrumental in implementing DE&I initiatives, including a menopause policy. She also applies this passion to MV’s investment strategy, having launched an initiative to link the firm’s latest fund’s performance fee and carried interest to ESG-linked KPIs.

Symon Drake-Brockman, Pemberton

When blue-chip UK insurer L&G bought a 40 percent stake in Pemberton and committed €250 million to its financing platform in 2014, it was an extraordinary vindication for a newcomer to the European private debt scene, which was competing for L&G’s attention with much longer established firms. Spearheaded by Drake-Brockman, the former global head of debt markets at RBS, the firm had gambled by not following the crowd. At a time when bandwagon outfits were piling into private equity-sponsored deals, Pemberton went big into the sponsorless market, putting lots of boots on the ground. The firm also came out with a lower risk-return strategy compared with many others – that was specifically, and successfully, targeted at the insurance community.

Benoit Durteste, ICG

Durteste was instrumental in getting a European pioneer of private debt up and running. He joined ICG in 2002 and did mezzanine deals that “came through the crisis with a good track record”, according to a peer, then founded the credit group in 2010. The firm launched the first in a series of direct lending funds in 2011 including the €5.2 billion Senior Debt Partners III fund in 2017.

Durteste, along with other senior professionals such as co-heads of European direct lending Peter Lockhead and Mathieu Vigier, created a juggernaut that – by offering loans of €400 million or more – can genuinely compete with the banks at the larger end. The firm’s Senior Debt Partners IV fund closed on around €8.1 billion in late 2021.

Svein Engh, EnTrust Global

Speciality finance is an intriguing catch-all covering strategies as diverse as non-performing loans, litigation finance and royalties. Maritime finance is another of private debt’s niche strategies, and Engh has been one of its pioneers. In 2010 Engh helped build shipping investment company Octavian Maritime Holdings alongside hedge fund Octavian Advisors. Between 2012 and 2015, he built from scratch CIT Maritime Finance, a business focused on lending and leasing in shipping and offshore services. Since December 2015, he has been a senior managing director and portfolio manager at fund manager EnTrust Global, where he heads Blue Ocean Group, which focuses on private debt and direct lending opportunities connected with companies in the maritime sector. Blue Ocean originates asset-backed financings, and purchases such loans opportunistically. Engh has been at the forefront of a developing trend.

Anthony Fobel, Arcmont Asset Management

When thinking of names associated with the early development of Europe’s private debt industry, Fobel is one that comes to mind. An investment banker at Lehman Brothers and Dresdner Kleinwort Benson in the mid-to-late-1990s, Fobel was a director at private equity firm CVC Capital Partners from 1998-2005 and then partner and head of European investments at Och-Ziff Capital Management between 2005 and 2010. In 2011, he founded the private debt business at fixed income manager BlueBay before spinning it out to form Arcmont Asset Management in 2019. The firm has become one of the most prominent players in European private debt, building up more than €24 billion in assets under management. In one of the most notable strategic moves in private debt in recent times, Nuveen – the investment arm of financial services giant TIAA – acquired Arcmont earlier this year. Fobel’s firm will now work closely with existing Nuveen fund manager, US-based Churchill Asset Management (see Ken Kencel entry).

Sabrina Fox, European Leveraged Finance Association

Since her appointment as chief executive officer of the European Leveraged Finance Association in 2021, Fox has contributed to the exponential growth of the organisation. She helped launch impactful industry initiatives that are driving change in the European leveraged finance market, supporting ELFA’s purpose of “creating a more transparent, efficient and resilient market for investors and borrowers”. Helping ELFA’s membership grow by 57 percent, Fox has made the organisation financially viable through partnerships with financial advisers and law firms, providing invaluable education to members. She is also a regular on the conference circuit, using it as a way to win converts to her vision of a more transparent and accessible asset class.

Marcus Frampton, Alaska Permanent Fund

An active investor in private credit funds since 2007, the APFC decided to go direct with the $1 billion Alaska Direct Alternative Credit fund and a $500 million co-investment programme with Pathway Capital Management.

The ADAC fund consists of both liquid loans and private loans, though the latter makes up a majority of the portfolio. The Pathway fund is focused on a diversified portfolio of private credit co-investments. Jared Brimberry was also a key figure in overseeing this effort before his departure to become director of hedge fund investments at UTIMCO in 2019.

David Golub, Golub Capital

Golub pushed back against poor manager-investor alignment in some BDC fee structures by being among the earlier adopters of an indefinite lookback that capped incentive fees for its BDC, which it registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009. Another benefit to shareholders is the 8 percent hurdle rate, above many other BDCs.

In addition, Golub has emphasised one-stop loans since before the GFC – via its proprietary GOLD facility – helping popularise the financing type. The Golub Capital Altman Index has become a key measure of performance in the US mid-market – its publication keenly awaited by those with an eye on the good health or otherwise of America’s corporate heartlands.

Bennett Goodman, Hunter Point Capital

Having been one of the pioneers of the alternative asset industry, it’s a neat twist that Goodman is now at a firm that seeks to invest in the next generation of alternative asset industry leaders. Goodman co-founded Hunter Point Capital – which in 2023 alone has formed partnerships with the likes of Coller Capital, Inflexion and L Catterton – in October 2020 and serves as the firm’s executive chairman.

Most famously, Goodman was a founder of GSO Capital Partners (the “G” in “GSO”), the credit arm of Blackstone Group. The $125 billion investment platform is now known as Blackstone Credit.

Chris Gradel, PAG

In 2002, Gradel co-founded PAG, which now manages over $50 billion of assets. He looks after PAG’s credit & markets business, which includes multi-asset pan-Asian hedge fund and credit-focused fund strategy.

Within that strategy, Gradel looks for inefficiencies and dislocations in the market, such as short-term direct lending to corporates, distressed debt and convertible bonds. He arrived in the Greater China region in 1995 with a focus on buying out and turning around state-owned companies.