Back in 1972, before many of Europe's current crop of hot financiers were born, a young Harvard University Business School graduate named Ronald Cohen founded a European venture capital firm called Apax Partners & Co. Cohen concedes that he and his partner, Paris-based Maurice Tchenio, acted a bit prematurely in trying to raise money to invest in European technology companies.
But now they are sitting pretty. Apax Partners manages close to $7 billion, with about $4 billion of that targeted at Europe. And Cohen has played a big role in backing such major successes as Autonomy, perhaps Britain's most successful Internet company, and Jazztel, a zooming Spanish business phone services company. In the 1990s, Apax' returns averaged 45% net of fees. It has made about $600 million on its original $3 million investment in Autonomy.
Cohen, 54, says that the blossoming of high tech in Europe, Israel, and India has confirmed his view that venture capital should be a global business. Apax is well-covered in the U.S. through a partnership with venture capitalist Alan Patricof. In Israel, a $2.7 million investment in e-mail provider Commtouch is now worth $25 million.
Cohen has come a long way. He credits his fluency in five languages to his upbringing in Cairo, where he went to a French school. Once in Britain, he did well enough in school to be accepted at Oxford and then went on to Harvard Business School on a scholarship. A stint at McKinsey & Co. followed.
As a pioneer, Cohen has also helped found the British and European venture-capital associations. And he has funded the fledgling Easdaq stock exchange as well as Tradepoint Financial Networks, an electronic rival to the London Stock Exchange, because he didn't think the traditional exchanges were doing enough to raise money for new companies.
Cohen's success has earned him a niche as a patron of the arts and adviser to the British government, which wants to instill entrepreneurship in the local economy. He is especially fond of music. But, to his regret, he has never learned to play an instrument--though his wife, a film producer, recently treated him to piano lessons. That could be a new challenge if he ever decides to slow down.