Daniel Lyons (Managing Director, IMPROVED): “I banged my head on the table with every poorly articulated or irrelevant pitch.”
Daniel Lyons recently switched from Shell E-mobility to IMPROVED Corporate Finance. Lyons elaborates on his remarkable choice, in an interview with IMPROVED founder and Managing Partner, Frank Verbeek. “Thanks to my background, I can help companies further improve the way they position themselves in front of buyers”, he says.
The regular“Movers and Shakers” column on MenA.nl is always quickly filled. After all, there are many M&A specialists who take the next step in their career by joining a larger firm, or have been promoted internally. But rarely does someone come along who, after years of experience on the buy-side at a corporate, opts for a role at a corporate finance boutique. Daniel Lyons is one such person. As he says himself; “You do see investment bankers moving into a corporate finance role within a large corporate, but the other way around is not so common.” Lyons recently left Shell, where he led their global M&A and investment activities in E-Mobility, to become Managing Director at specialist corporate finance boutique, IMPROVED Corporate Finance.
Lyons spent some 16 years as a management consultant, first at Accenture and then at EY. At those firms, he advised many companies on their corporate strategy, optimizing their supply chain and improving their operations. Initially, he advised mostly technology companies, but gradually he began to deal more often with automotive and transportation companies. “They saw that their sector was on the brink of profound change, but they had questions about what to expect and how to respond. This would be a transformation that would last for decades, that would affect all kinds of parties, and that offered me the chance to matter in the world, to ‘make a difference.’
Gradually, Lyons also came into contact with a variety of start-ups focused on the mobility sector within EY, when he was approached by the Macquarie Group to advise on investments in the mobility sector, particularly in infrastructure, on behalf of that investment bank. During this time, Lyons networked with many E-mobility and associated charging infrastructure pioneers and developed a strong understanding of how the industry was developing at a very early stage.
Shell leading the transition
Until, after a year, he was approached by Shell to lead the Shell E-mobility M&A activities there. “My first reaction was; ‘Why should I join a hydrocarbon company?’ Shell, in my mind, represented the opposite of all the changes I wanted to bring about. On the other hand, Shell was a leader in the mobility sector and was putting a lot of capital into its transformation, from which I inferred that the company was seriously trying to change. I became convinced that I could make a bigger impact within Shell, for the simple reason that the company had so much capital at its disposal. So I went over anyway.”
He found a company that was quite “hawkish” when it came to electric vehicles. “When I started there in 2019, there weren’t many people in Shell who were enthusiastic about EVs, let alone think we should be investing in the sector. But we had a new unit, Shell New Energies – today’s Renewable Business – that was set up to innovate. That has gained a foothold in recent years. In part through the acquisitions that Shell E-mobility made under my leadership.” Ultimately, Lyons spent three years at Shell E-mobility, and was responsible for five minority investments and one full acquisition, of ubitricity in 2021. “But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had the privilege to hear pitches from more than 200 innovators and entrepreneurs active in electric and future mobility. Pretty much every company seeking investment or even acquisition in this sector wanted to talk to Shell, and within Shell, it was my desk they came to. This provided a fantastic vantage point to assess how the market is developing.”
A strong impression
At the time, ubitricity was represented by IMPROVED Corporate Finance, and so Lyons got in touch with Frank Verbeek, Managing Partner, and Sherief Rahim, Executive Director, of that firm – which had previously advised on the sale of New Motion to Shell. Lyons was immediately convinced of the company’s potential, which had developed a technique for using lampposts as charging stations (ideal for people without their own driveway). “And I had a strong impression of IMPROVED when working with Frank and Sherief. It was also partly due to their professionalism that the sale of ubitricity was completed in three months. No mean feat when you consider how many internal stakeholders had to be convinced that the acquisition would really be a good investment for Shell.”
Lyons liked the introduction to Verbeek and Rahim so much that he eagerly accepted an offer to become Managing Director of Improved Corporate Finance’s London office. He expects there to be work for many years to come in the sectors in which IMPROVED is strong, namely technology, energy transition and mobility. Indeed, electrification in the mobility sector has only just begun, Lyons said. “Vehicle electrification is still in its infancy – for example, while EV sales account for one in six new car sales in the UK today, there’s still a long way to go before the entire fleet is fully electrified. But it is definitely going to happen – the investments being made by automakers, the legislative changes being introduced, and the changes in consumer attitudes – all point to this not being a fad. Not to mention the energy transition, which is happening at the same time, and is also driving the transformation of the mobility sector.”
Lyons believes he can accelerate all these changes with IMPROVED. “All the insights I gained as an investor at Shell will come in handy with tremendous benefit. I understand how to get a deal done, how to sell something internally – and that can benefit entrepreneurs who are looking for capital or who want to sell their business. I can help them tell their “equity story” in a way that will resonate with the relevant buyer. Because I’ve been that buyer – I’ve had to listen to countless pitches, I’ve banged my head against the table because I had to attend yet another presentation that was totally irrelevant for me or completely unconvincing.”
In short, Lyons is able to put himself in the shoes of investors and is good at helping entrepreneurs, innovators, and companies position themselves effectively – to help them realize their full potential. No wonder Frank Verbeek considers him “the perfect addition to our team” and “proud that IMPROVED has onboarded someone with his qualities.”
And it is precisely in the current, somewhat ailing investment climate that Lyons can do extra justice within the firm, it seems. Because, as Lyons says: “There is plenty of capital, especially from private equity firms and other investors who have to comply with all sorts of ESG guidelines when putting together their portfolio. But investors are already much more critical than they were a few months ago, both because there are more and more measures to combat greenwashing and because the investment climate is deteriorating. They will only invest if they are really convinced that they are dealing with a sound business. Companies that are looking for an investment will therefore have to present themselves better. I’m happy to help with that.”
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