Contrary to the old adage, you can buy style. That’s just what 47-year old Renato Preti does as co-founder and managing partner of the €215 million private equity fund Opera. The fund was jointly launched with Italian jewellers Bulgari in 2001 and concentrates on Italian lifestyle products, recently buying a 55% stake in B&B Italia, the Milanese furniture design company.
This April, Preti and Bulgari announced plans to clone the fund and to raise a further €250 million for Opera II. The new fund will branch out into more non-design areas such as cosmetics, tourism, food and wine, but core interests will stay the same as its sister fund’s.
“Design in Italy has a fantastic product,” says Preti, “but there’s no branding, no marketing.” He points to research commissioned by the fund which showed that, while consumers recognize 95% of the big fashion and auto brands, for major design names that figure slumps to as low as 2%.
It’s not just branding that’s missing, says Preti. Marketing and distribution could be sharpened up, too. Opera, which has so far invested around two thirds of its funds, is hunting for companies, like light manufacturers, to complement B&B’s furniture range.
Preti hopes that Opera II will have raised its money by the end of this year. “The time will be good to buy companies,” he says. He believes that the stock exchange will not be an alternative for struggling companies over the next 24 months and points to the difficulty in getting money from newlyconservative Italian banks. “Most of the medium-sized companies in Italy are owned by families,” he says, “and they’re scared.”
Benjamin Beasley - Murray