Ashley Rountree is the managing director and partner at C.W. Downer & Co. in its Paris office. He has worked in the international corporate development field since 1983 and helped build multinational European teams across three separate C.W. Downer & Co. offices. A former member of the ACG Global Board of Directors, he received the ACG Meritorious Service Award in 2012 for his long-term contributions and service to ACG and the middle market.
Q. WHERE IN THE WORLD DO YOU SEE THE MOST MIDDLE-MARKET OPPORTUNITIES?
I believe the United States and Western Europe offer the best opportunities at the moment. They have the most developed middle market with the largest number of companies. The U.S. economy is finally seeing signs of a lasting upturn after several years of downturn, and I see real opportunities for companies to invest now and get the benefit of a virtuous spiral of rising property values, rising housing starts, rising consumer spending, and a new phase of growth. The one negative I see in the United States at the moment for buyers is high deal prices.
Western Europe, despite the sovereign debt and bank balance sheet issues, remains the home of the world’s most prosperous, most highly educated populations, and the most efficient infrastructures for education, logistics, communications and health care. Although Western Europe and the United States cannot hope to enjoy the growth rates of emerging markets, they offer stronger and more secure environments for middle-market companies to thrive.
Q. WHAT MAKES WORKING AND INVESTING IN FRANCE A GOOD PROPOSITION?
It’s misleading not to recognize that France is going through a difficult period. In the Great Recession and credit crisis that began in 2008, France was fortunate to avoid the worst of its effects through a combination of good crisis management and built-in shock absorbers which, though they hinder growth in good times, also protect the French economy in bad periods. However, that good fortune has proven a mixed blessing: Thinking they had dodged the Great Recession, the French government did not undertake important reforms with regard to labor cost, labor flexibility, social security and pension costs that Germany enacted during the Schroeder years, and that have been forced upon the crisis-stricken economies of Spain, Ireland and Italy.
France maintains a strong central government, which allows it to react quickly once the political will is mustered. So I believe France will, more than any other country in Europe, be able to turn on a dime once the electorate and its political representatives recognize the risk of losing competitiveness.