lthough hiring new partners at Highland Europe is a process that resembles a carefully executed marathon rather than a hasty sprint, Tony’s addition to the pack started with a (literal) pacey run in Geneva’s Jardin Anglais.
It was the summer of 2012 and Tony was at Index Ventures. Fergal Mullen had originally met Tony through Irena Goldenberg, who had spent some time at Index Ventures herself. The three had established a habit of meeting regularly for social catch-ups in Geneva. The relationship played a part in Tony securing a seat on the board of Barcelona-based Privalia, an e-commerce business in which Highland held a stake until its sale in 2016.
“I’d been thinking of setting up my own fund and I knew Fergal and his team were in the process of raising theirs so I reached out for a chat by way of a run,” Tony recalls. Little did he know that the sweaty session would mark the start of an exciting new chapter in both of their professional lives.
Several conversations occurred in the following weeks during which Fergal pitched a job to Tony in Highland’s Dublin office. Tony and family embarked on an exploratory trip and after a few more dinners with Fergal and, as well as Highland’s Laurence Garrett and Sam Brooks in London, they agreed to make Ireland their next home.
“I reached out for a chat by way of a run”
— Tony Zappalà, Partner
“I sensed that I was getting in at the start of something exciting and that Highland was very much aligned with the style of investing I wanted to do,” says Tony. “One thing I really liked was the stress on the equal ethos of the company.”
During his time on the Emerald Isle, Tony secured Highland’s deal with AMCS, with Fergal serving in the self-appointed role of Irish translator, something that both acknowledge as a prime example of teamwork.
Eight years since that run in Geneva, Fergal unequivocally notes that his decision to pursue Tony was a risk that has paid off in a tremendous way. “Sure you take really important risks when you’re making investment decisions,” he says, “but the upside of hiring a person who’s right for the job is immeasurable.”
Tony, for his part, is grateful that he was not only fit enough to keep up on that summer’s day in the park, but also that he proved to be the right fit for the job. Fitness, it seems, can be defined in many ways.