You might find Tuikku Alaviitala suited and laptop-hunched as part of her two decades’ experience in investment banking in the oil and gas sector - or you might find her flying through the air on a trapeze as part of her circus hobby-turned-side-hustle. She’s the co-owner of flying trapeze firm The London Circus Company, as well as a co-founder of corporate advisory firm NRG Capital Partners. Prior to that, she led Oil & Gas M&A at Barclays Capital’s London office for five years and worked in the same sector at Citigroup’s EMEA Energy investment banking team for eight years. Her global transaction and project experience spans large international and national energy and resource firms, as well as European utilities with upstream operations. The Finn-born executive’s most recent, Nurole-appointed, role is linked to her acrobatic interest: she’s a trustee at the National Centre for Circus Arts.
Are you the only energy sector M&A expert who can regularly be found upside down on the flying trapeze?
I believe so! I’ve always loved gymnastics: I used to be a gymnastic coach, but when I started in investment banking working 16 hour days, seven days a week, I had to give it up. After about a decade in banking, though, I started seeing light at the end of the tunnel and I got back into gymnastics and loved the flying trapeze. I haven’t looked back since. I co-own a flying trapeze school - TLCC Trapeze School - as well as NRG Capital Partners, which is a small firm. In a global company often you don’t have time to do anything else, but we do business differently from the big banks. As we focus on deal execution there’s far less travelling and marketing. I’d become used to doing 14 hour-days so when that went down to working eight hours a day, I suddenly had almost another day available!
On energy, given your work in O&G, where do you think the future lies in terms of M&A?
Given the lack of private or public capital going into O&G sector, the smaller and medium size exploration and production (E&P) firms will struggle to survive without consolidation. The lack of capital is driven by investors’ search for infrastructure like investments (ie less risky ones), dividend yield (E&P players typically don’t pay dividends) and climate change concerns. Thus the smaller players will have to increase the size of their portfolios in terms of producing assets so that they can reduce exposure to exploration and development and move into a position where they can start paying dividends.
PE-backed E&P companies are looking to be bought out by larger O&G companies but it is going to be interesting to see who the buyers are given that the PE backed E&P portfolios are made up of largely assets bought from Majors. I think the Majors will continue to target upstream portfolios that will fill gaps in their portfolios and focus on further expansion into energy transitioning businesses.
And how quickly will the industry change in light of the eco push?
O&G will be there for decades - because of the petchems, base load electricity requirement, and high cost of moving away from hydrocarbons - however the question is how quickly can renewables / green tech / electricity storage / electric vehicles grow in market share? And how quickly will technology innovation move new technologies down the cost curve so that they can be adopted at a lower cost quicker?
How are you finding your first public trustee role, at the National Centre for Circus Arts?
I’m finding that you get a ‘deep dive’ into another organisation and it’s your role to start to understand the challenges very quickly, and see how you can potentially be helpful with the management team in tackling those issues. On a board or as a trustee, you have to be careful not to meddle - I’m not part of the management team so won’t be executing changes, but it’s about giving ideas, and thinking about things differently.
Do you recommend finding a board or trustee role that fits so closely with a personal interest - in your case acrobatics?
It is nice to have a good understanding of what they do and the circus business activity so that not everything is new. But how to run a business applies to circus as much as any other sector - if you’ve been involved in running a business, it doesn’t really matter if your company does bridges whilst your non-executive role is a firm that makes scooters. The basics work anywhere. But in terms of personal interest, it’s a lot more fun if you’re interested - for me, particularly as I’m in that world already via flying trapeze.
How has your finance career worked alongside your love of circus skills? Are there any crossover skills?!
Not very many crossover skills but they balance each nicely. Work can take over life quite a bit - but one cannot fly trapeze or do gymnastics without having a full focus on the activity when flying or tumbling.
For others who’ve also worked in corporate finance advisory, what skills do you think are most useful on boards?
Commercial thinking: understanding how investors consider investment opportunities and their decision-making processes for capital commitments. You should be good at providing that ‘outside-in’ view, as well as knowing how to market services, and how to “balance the books”.
Building up a network is crucial for finding future corporate board positions for your own career. I’d advise people not to focus only on their one ‘area’ - if you know your financials, that’s great, but as a board member you’ll need to look holistically and be aware of all the areas of running a business - IT challenges, regulatory issues, how the market is changing.. Be able to converse on all those topics.
I think a trustee role is a good route in - for me, for example, I don’t have any higher education experience but that’s a big piece of the NCCA work, so I have to get up to speed on that, and on Government funding for it. I like learning about new things so it’s a great challenge.
How have you found your Nurole experience?
THE NCCA has selected four new board or trustee members via Nurole, including me, and we’re all from very different backgrounds, and very diverse businesses. That’s great. In business, boards tend to look very similar and it’s hard to get on to them existing board experience. Nurole helps you to get in. As a female, I’ve found it’s easier to get board experience in the arts; one day I may use that as leverage, so my current experience means I won’t be the ‘newbie’ for a company in the future.
Whilst your corporate life has been UK-based, you’re Finnish and have worked with Finn firms: what are the main corporate contrasts?
Finns are more matter of fact, communication is clearer, and deadlines are met on time. Finns tell you what you think - the Brits will say ‘that’s very interesting..’ but will mean the opposite!
And now for some quick-fire questions…
What’s your favourite book?
Donna Leon’s Brunetti series – philosophical Italian detecting solving criminal cases in Venice. Plus Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Two weeks of intensive circus training in Seattle.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?
8am and 8 hours.
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