Khary Robinson, WG '07 - Norbrook Equity Partners
Please provide an overview of your current business venture
Founded in 2008, Norbrook Equity Partners (NEP) is an investment holding company that acquires and grows well-positioned businesses in emerging markets. Over the tenure of our existence, we have acquired or invested in 37 companies across various industries and geographies. Our focus has been building service businesses in the Caribbean, but we have nurtured businesses in a wide array of industries and geographies including West Africa, the United States and several countries in the Caribbean.
Today, NEP owns and operates eleven companies in the Caribbean. Our companies operate in four main sectors – Logistics, Transaction Processing, Consumer Goods & Services, and Business Process Outsourcing. With a team of over 750 employees, Norbrook creates value by identifying valuable niche opportunities and unlocking their potential through innovative growth strategies and operational initiatives. We also leverage add-on acquisitions as a tool for enhanced growth in our portfolio companies.
To execute our strategy, Norbrook leverages an experienced investment team, a deep knowledge of regional markets, strategic positioning with key public and private sector entities, and operational expertise to enhance the value of our portfolio companies. While we have never directly leveraged external equity partners, Norbrook has a successfully partnered with various operating partners, co-investors, and commercial lenders to enhance our investment scope.
Why did you decide to pursue this business venture?
Growing up in a very entrepreneurial family in Jamaica, I developed a keen desire to build businesses from a very early age. At every stage of my career, I was always trying to identify hidden opportunities in companies or industries with an aim of unlocking value from these through the help of innovative ideas and strong teams. I had seen my father and brother do it before me and so couldn’t help but leverage the ‘entrepreneurial gene’.
Accordingly, very shortly after leaving college and a stint in investment banking, I returned to Jamaica to try my hand at starting a business. That process (well, those processes since I ended up starting three businesses) taught me the intrinsic value embedded in identifying opportunities and developing commercial solutions to solve them. More importantly, it taught me that every business, regardless of scale, took the same effort, time, and brainpower to grow and so starting from scratch in an emerging market was likely not the best way to garner scale.
Accordingly, I applied to Wharton to broaden my relationship base and hone the skills I felt I needed for a second chapter of entrepreneurship in emerging markets. My aim was to not just pursue the organic path of growing companies but to use acquisitions as a tool to start at meaningful scale and grow even faster.
After Wharton and another stint executing private equity transactions during the robust period of 2007, I was equipped with a mix of entrepreneurial experience and ‘acquisitional skillsets’ that would allow me to return to Jamaica and pursue my passion of growing companies through traditional methods as well as acquisitions. Accordingly, in 2008, I left the comfort of Wall Street for the last time and started Norbrook Equity Partners.
What has the journey been like?
The journey of developing Norbrook has been a rollercoaster of emotions – happiness, sadness, doubt, excitement, fear, frustration, anxiety, horror, relief but most importantly, fulfillment. The company started with a loan from my mentor and one employee. Together, we searched for businesses to acquire, the first of which fell through after seven months of work and nearly half the loan amount spent. The challenge of that transaction was enough for one to want to call it quits, but for us, it made us hungrier for success. This cemented the DNA of our company to focus on flexibility, capital preservation, diversification, and executional excellence in both investing and operating. The next transaction closed successfully and the one thereafter even more so.
By acquiring companies at fair prices and meaningfully expanding them through organic growth initiatives, operational excellence, and add-on acquisitions, we have been able to acquire 37 companies over the past 13 years. More importantly, we did so without any external equity which gave us the flexibility to approach each business with an investment tenure and strategy that would ensure long-term, sustainable success for that company.
The most important element to our success has been our people. Instead of just investing in businesses, we very early recognized that investing in the right people was just as important. We looked for people that embraced the idea of entrepreneurial risk and reward. Accordingly, by living out our mantra, “be better today than you were yesterday”, we have been able to build a great team of intrapreneurs that are committed to continually unlocking value from their businesses through innovation, efficiency, and hard work.
Today, we have a great team running a great base of businesses and we continue to refine our growth model as we appreciate that learning, refining and growing is a never-ending process.
How can alumni support?
Our business is anchored on the premise of finding well-positioned businesses and unlocking value from them with the right people and processes. Accordingly, finding the right people, the right businesses and developing better operating processes is my primary role. Accordingly, if alumni have ideas or leads in any of the three areas, we are always receptive to learning more.
The typical businesses we look on are companies in growth industries that are earning between $2M and $5M in EBITDA. We also look for people to support our businesses that are very entrepreneurial in nature but have some experience in a structured operating environment. In terms of business processes, we are always looking for technology, sales strategies or operating processes that can make our top-line growth faster, our operations more efficient, our people more effective and our reporting more seamless.
Link for additional information on business venture