Mega-money maker on the move

August 20, 2008, 12:03 AM UTC

Greg Brenneman has long been a serial mega-money maker. In the mid-90s, when he was just 32, he was president and COO of Continental Airlines (CAL). He partnered with then-CEO Gordon Bethune to pull Continental from its nosedive post-bankruptcy and they multplied the stock price more than 15-fold. Then Brenneman led PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. Within a month of joining that firm as CEO, he agreed to sell it to IBM for $3.5 billion. The master of the quick turnaround, Brenneman went on to revive Burger King (BKC). Since leaving there two years ago, he’s been under the radar. Quietly, he’s been running his own private equity firm, aptly named TurnWorks, in Houston and commuting to Denver. There he has served as CEO of Quiznos, the privately-held sandwich chain that is one of Turnworks’ holdings.

Here’s another turn for Brenneman: He’s handing over the CEO job at Quiznos — which, yes, he has expanded profitably — to Dave Deno, a former COO of YUM Brands (YUM). Meanwhile he’s taking the chairman role at CCMP Capital, a private-equity spinoff of J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM). CCMP, which buys into businesses with sales of $500 million to some $3 billion, happens to be another major investor in Quiznos, where Brenneman plans to stay on as executive chairman.

When Brenneman, 46, phoned Tuesday afternoon, he was juiced to go make money out in the world again. “We’re back to the future in private equity,” he said of the downtrodden market. “Financing is tough, and you really have to work hard in the businesses you invest in.” Of course, that’s what he’s good at. “Yeah, that’s what I love to do. I like the timing of this,” he added, noting that he usually performs best in the harshest economic environments. “It’s great to have cheap capital, but those days are not coming back.”

Given the ongoing turmoil, which Brenneman expects to last a while, he’s not eager to sell Quiznos or take it public anytime soon. “It’ll likely be 2010 or 2011,” he predicts, noting that it’ll take that long for enough potential buyers to have adequate capital and appetite to pay a nice price for a rapidly expanding restaurant chain. (Currently 5000 units and primarily a domestic operator, Quiznos wil likely open more than 1,000 new units abroad in the next three years, he says.)

Where besides food will he invest his new money? CCMP is in five industry segments, says Brenneman, who sits on the board of two Fortune 500 companies, Home Depot and Automatic Data Processing . “The two best areas now are health care and energy.” He has a prime purview. “Houston is rockin’ and rollin’ these days,” he adds.

P.S. Brenneman is remarkably disciplined — one reason, I think, that he’s adept at corporate turnarounds. Evidence of his discipline: He lost 90 pounds in 1999. Today, he says, he weighs 190 pounds and stands six-foot-three. This morning he was in the gym working out at 3 a.m. “That’s pretty common,” he says.