The Pemba philosophy – a different (founder-centric) approach to growth investing

28th November 2022
LI Pemba Philosophy - The Pemba philosophy - a different (founder-centric) approach to growth investing

Tom Matthews

Every great culture needs a mission, a vision, and values. An organisation’s mission is its purpose and reason for being. Its vision is its aspiration for itself. And its values (or virtues) are the way an organization commits to working — a statement of how a company does what it does and the principles it will consistently abide by.

At Pemba we spend a lot of time with our partner companies helping them define their mission, vision and values as part of the strategic planning process. We have also been through the same exercise with our organisation.

Our mission

At Pemba, we have a clear mission. We exist to help founders of Australian SMEs achieve their specific business objectives, which usually centre around accelerated growth, succession and legacy. Our whole purpose is to help them turn their strategic visions into realities.

The words underlined in the paragraph above are done so deliberately. Even though we usually invest alongside founders and management teams for a majority equity position, we still view the company as the founder’s and not ours.

Our whole branding and name reflects this philosophy. Pemba is a common Sherpa name. Like the Sherpa, we are seasoned mountaineers in terms of building market-leading businesses, but when we partner with a business, it’s not our journey; it’s the founder’s and management team’s journey.

We view our job as helping the founder and management team scale their summit (i.e. achieve their objectives) safely and successfully. We see our role as the experienced mountain guide to assist the founder and management team on their ascent and to de-risk their path to the summit.

This sets us apart from the competition – many of whom view are purely focused on maximising the financial return for themselves. Our mindset is different, we believe that by helping the founder and management team achieve their business objectives and a great outcome for them, our financial returns will follow. This is core to our identity and serves as a rallying point for our team.

Even in decision-making, for us at Pemba, there’s got to be consensus with the founder we’re investing alongside (even if we hold the majority of the equity). It goes to our partnership style of investing – if we can’t build a strong enough case to convince the founder, then we don’t do it. In fact, if the founder isn’t convinced, then it’s probably not the right thing to do. This is a very different approach from most other private equity investors who “call all the shots” once they’ve made an investment.

Our vision

At Pemba, our vision (or desired / intended state in the future) is to be the capital provider of choice to the Australian SME market across our five key defensive growth sectors, namely: technology (software and specialist IT services), healthcare, training & education, financial services and essential business services.

We have a number of very clear strategic goals that we are delivering upon and a specific timeframe of when we plan to have each achieved by. We have even named these strategic goals after the highest peaks in the Himalayas, in keeping with our Sherpa name.

Our values

Values are core principles that guide the way an organisation works together as a team and for its clients. Values are the moral code of an organization — the set of rules everyone embraces and abides by that reflects the ethics of the people in the organization and holds everyone accountable to the right standard of behaviour.

Accordingly to Brené Brown, in her bestselling book, Dare to Lead:

“A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk – we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviours align with those beliefs.”

At Pemba, we have spent a significant amount of time forming our values. Our values are deeply ingrained principles that guide our team’s actions and serve as cultural cornerstones. These are:

  • Supportive
  • Humble
  • Empowering
  • Resilient
  • Pioneering
  • Agile.

I’m sure many of you will have picked up that these form the acronym: SHERPA, which again links back to our mission and vision.

Living into our values

At Pemba, we integrate our core values and philosophy into every employee-related process – hiring methods, performance management systems, criteria for rewards and incentives, etc. From the first interview, to the onboarding process and annual reviews, our team are constantly reminded that our core values form the basis for every decision we make.

Our recruitment process is deliberately designed to ensure that candidates don’t just have the right level of IQ and technical expertise, but also they have the right EQ and alignment with our SHERPA values. We spend a significant amount of time ensuring this is the case and use lots of tools and techniques to test cultural fit. In fact, we regularly reject candidates if we don’t feel they are aligned to our values.

Our induction / onboarding process specifically covers our values right at the start of the program, and gives all new employees specific examples of where team members have demonstrated our SHERPA values. We have even implemented an additional annual incentive scheme, which rewards team members for “living and breathing the Pemba values”. This is assessed through an annual peer on peer review.

Promoting our values

We believe the influence of our values on Pemba’s success is so substantial that we promote our values at every opportunity. In fact, it’s impossible for anyone to come to our office without observing our SHERPA values.

Our reception area, which we refer to as “Base Camp”, has a Nepalese tea house, Tibetan bells and other Sherpa paraphernalia. Much of the art work on the walls are expeditions up the Himalayan peaks. Even our meeting rooms are names after the highest Himalayan mountains.

In addition, our team members don’t dress like usual “suit and tie” private equity professionals – we have adopted Pemba branded t-shirts and polos. In fact, many of our team members regularly wear the branded t-shirts of our partner companies rather than our Pemba merch.

Walking our talk

We held a mini-AGM for our investors last week. Rather than following the usual private equity playbook of having senior members of our team present to investors, we took the decision to ask the founders and management teams of our partner companies to present on their business and their experience so far of partnering with Pemba.

What was amazing was the number of references from each partner company on “Pemba’s partnership approach” and “our team of Sherpas helping them on their climbs”. What was even more pleasing was the number of individuals from the Pemba team that were personally called out by our partner companies – a clear sign that each are living and breathing our SHERPA values.

What next?

If you are an Australian or New Zealand based founder considering external investment but looking for a different approach where you will be supported, your people looked after, and your legacy protected, then please email me at to find out how our team of Sherpas will be able to support you on your push to the summit.

Related Articles.