Soros Joins Top Names in African Deal

24th November 2009

What unites once the world’s most powerful foreign secretary, once the world’s most powerful hedge fund manager and a scion of perhaps once the world’s most powerful banking dynasty? The answer, surprisingly, is a London-based private equity manager investing in Africa, writes James Mawson, editor of Private Equity News. 

Helios Investment Partners, an independent firm set up five years ago by two former executives from TPG Capital, a large and very influential buyout group, has pulled off the feat of bringing George Soros, Madeleine Albright and Jacob Rothschild into the same deal to open up mobile phones to the other half of the African population without telecommunication access.

As co-investors in Helios Towers Africa, the four have committed an initial $350m in equity to buy mobile phone masts in the continent outside of Nigeria and boost telecoms penetration rates beyond 45%. 

Temitope Lawani, a co-founder of Helios, said the firm had previously invested with Soros Strategic Partners, the private equity operation of the hedge fund manager who effectively forced the devaluation of sterling more than a decade earlier, in Africa. Soros has been a successful backer of US mobile phone towers, having bought Sprint’s 3,000 masts a few years before, and knows the sector well.

Albright and Rothschild are big investors in emerging markets: Madeline through raising $350m for the Albright Capital Markets fund in 2007, while Lord Rothschild has family investments in emerging markets and runs RIT Capital Partners, a listed investment company. 

Lawani said as a result of their expertise, Helios had approached them to join as coinvestors in Helios Towers Africa.

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