The elegant Victorian corner of The Boltons, a succession of neo-classical whitewashed houses with columned doorways overlooking a lozenge-shaped square in the heart of London, is a common destination for Londoners on the hunt for little hidden gems of the city. At Christmas, then, when the facades of the buildings are decorated as if they were huge gift packages, there’s also a procession of onlookers to take photos. One of these houses is home to one of the most interesting and dynamic female entrepreneurs in Europe. Do not struggle to find a name on the intercom, as there is not: how typical for truly exclusive addresses. And there wouldn't even be a need: whoever needs to know who’s in there already does, and on the other hand the whole building has only one owner. Nicole Junkermann lives there. Her surname betrays German origins: she was born in Dusseldorf, but a large slice of her history and her affections are in Italy. In the room, among candelabras and vases of flowers, two skeleton-shaped chairs stand out. Seizing curiosity in all the guests visiting her, she now has learnt to automatically say: «My husband made those».
STARTUPS & RICH HUSBANDS
The lady hit the gossip headlines as well, and not just because of her chair-maker husband: in the past 4 years she has been the wife of Count Brachetti Peretti: in 2017 she married Ferdinando Maria, heir to the noble Roman family and industrial dynasty. He and his brother run IP-API oil empire, Italian biggest refinery and gas stations chain. The company was founded by his maternal grandfather Ferdinando Peretti. Above the table, the wife of one of Italy's richest man holds a stack of books: at the top stands Tarzan Economics, the cult book by Will Page, Spotify's chief economist. For the world of startups, is like having the Bible in a catholic believer’s drawer. And Junkermann strongly believes in the concept of disruption: her job is to look around the world for new companies. Especially the ones bringing Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction". She manages a fund worth hundreds of millions (it started with 250 million and has now doubled), but she owes nothing to Italian relationship capitalism: not even one euro of her firm, Njf Capital, comes from the help of her husband's surname. As matter of fact, it doesn't come from any surname. Her investment company is a “white fly” in the world of finance: she has no investors at all. Ms Junckermann didn't go knocking on the doors of friends nor did she go to the market, asking for capital. She only invests her own money. It is all own equity, personal venture capital, earned over time. Not having investors thirsty for immediate returns, nor intrusive profits behind her shoulder, is an ace up her sleeve to invest as much as she wants and how she wants. But even if she had shareholders to be accountable to, they would have been extremely happy: the average return of the fund has been 47% in the past years.
A GERMAN BUSINESSWOMAN IN ITALY
It was probably destiny that the lady and the “Belpaese” crossed their paths: her first investment as a budding entrepreneur-financier was exactly in Italy, twenty years ago. After the internet bubble and the dotcom boom, broadcaster Kirch Media, the tv empire created by tycoon Leo Kirch, goes bust in Germany. The group is torn apart and a very young Nicole, fresh from a master's degree at Harvard, sniffs out the deal: together with other partners from the Kirch galaxy take over the Swiss sports TV rights company Infront. The CEO was Philip Blatter, nephew of the more famous Sepp, the powerful UEFA head. Over the years under the umbrella of Junkermann, Infront acquires Italian tv rights company Media Partners founded by Marco Bogarelli: the late guru of TV rights is appointed head of the Infront Italian branch. After nine years, when the group reached 600 million pounds in turnover, Junkermann and their associates think it’s time to sell: the British private equity Bridgepoint is the buyer, advised by international investment banker Gerardo Braggiotti. For the second time, Italy is on Junkermann's path. From the Infront bet, the lady came out with a substantial capital gain: the company was sold for 650 million dollars. News fact: four years later, Bridgepoint re-sold Infront to the Chinese Wanda Group for over 1 billion. In the ten years following the happy bet on the world of football, she has always reinvested the earnings in other companies: the fund has a nose for fintech and new technologies. She has been an early investor in Revolut, the pioneering digital bank App created by Nik Storonsky. Despite her important second surname, Ms Nicole ex Junkermann is keen to underline her autonomy: "Everything I've done, I built it by myself" she proudly claims. It’s not just rhetoric as she was already established in the world of venture capital even before getting married.
WOMEN IN BUSINESS
Women & business is the issue of the moment: controversial women's quotas in companies are a big debate. Once again Junkermann, as a good daughter of a frugal and Calvinist country, proves to be contrarian: «Women are the first not to believe in themselves. Women's quotas are fine as an incentive, but they cannot be a rule". She explains she didn't choose them on the basis of gender. She chose them for their skills because "brain is gender neutral”.
THE NEXT UNICORN
Her team is a truffle dog on a mission: finding the jewel. Among the 40 companies Junckermann currently has in her portfolio, as many as 12 – about one in three – are considered unicorns: they have an average tonnage of over 10 billion. After investing around the world, she now has in mind to find the real next European unicorn. It’s not an easy goal: throughout the old Continent discovering the Apple or the Google of the future is a titanic effort. Although the startup world is at peak, in the last ten years Europe has not produced any new Glovo or Spotify (the only two European startups that have really made it globally).