Private equity firms often get a bad rap in the popular media — picture Gordon Gekko in the 1980s movie Wall Street and, more recently, negative characterizations during the last presidential election — but new research by Stanford faculty member Shai Bernstein should dispel some of the myths about this class of investments.
“The public debate about private equity often lacks data upon which to base its arguments,” says Bernstein, who is an assistant professor of finance at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “We wanted to take an in-depth look at the operations of these privately held firms, which are, more often than not, hidden from the public eye.”
After a rigorous analysis of private equity (PE) buyouts in the restaurant industry in Florida, which looked at 103 separate deals from 2002 to 2012 and 3,700 restaurant locations, Bernstein and Harvard Business School faculty member Albert Sheen found strong evidence that private equity buyouts actually improved management practices and operations, as well as decreased prices, all with a minimal impact on employment.
While the study focuses on a single industry and geography, Bernstein stipulates that the findings are indicative of the broader value created by PE buyouts. As he explains, the restaurant industry has much in common with other sectors that attract private equity firms — they have tangible assets, relatively simple operations, and predictable cash flows. “We believe we can draw broader conclusions from these deals,” he says, although noting that some caution should be used in making generalizations.
The researchers decided to focus their efforts on restaurants because of the industry’s pervasive practice of dual ownership, in which a parent company directly owns and manages some locations and others are franchised. In general, a parent company has much less control over franchisees than locations that are directly owned. According to Bernstein, this provided a uniquely controlled experiment about the value added by PE firms, allowing the researchers to compare the effect of private equity ownership on direct-owned versus franchised locations.
“The Operational Consequences of Private Equity Buyouts: Evidence from the Restaurant Industry” is part of a series for the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and Stanford Graduate School of Business.