Millionaire risk-taker in a Mini now takes the gamble of his life

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The Independent Online

Alchemy Partners has the reputation of a maverick in the high-finance world of venture capitalism. It looks at deals others will not touch. It takes risk others will not dare take.

Its guiding light is Jon Moulton, 49, a veteran of the industry. With his thinning hair and small, unrimmed spectacles, he can have an austere look. But he is engaging company with a passion for history and a particular interest in the Second World War.

He loves to gossip about the deals that have passed his desk in Covent Garden, central London. And most do pass his desk. If there is a deal around in the market, Mr Moulton will know about it. He will either have looked at it himself or instructed one of his underlings to do the research.

Although he must have made millions, he still keeps a Mini at his home in Sevenoaks, Kent. There he lives in the same street as Guy Hands, one of the City's most innovative financiers at Nomura International.

An innovator from the outset, Mr Moulton set up Alchemy with the view to creating a new firm that would take an unusual approach. Venture capitalists typically make their money investing in growing companies that need cash to fulfil their ambitions. Most established firms, such as 3i, Candover Investments and CinVen adopt a low profile approach, quietly sifting though hundreds of approaches. They are cautious and when they invest, they are typically looking to realise the value of their investment within three to five years, either through the sale of the company, or through a stock market flotation.

Alchemy is altogether a bolder beast. Taking its name from the theory that base metal can be turned into gold, it has made its name investing in companies that have fallen on hard times. Investments have included Ushers of Trowbridge, the pubs and brewing company and Fads and Homestyle, the high-street DIY business that was making a loss as part of the Boots group. Deals looked at but shied away from include Raleigh Bicycles and Allied Carpets.

Alchemy was founded in 1997 by Mr Moulton and two former colleagues, Eric Walters and Martin Bolland. Mr Moulton was previously at Apax Partners, where he led the buy-out of Brands Hatch Leisure. Before that he was at Schroder Ventures, where he worked on the buy-out and recovery plan at Parker Pens. One of Alchemy's directors is Rover's former marketing director Kevin Morley.