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William Morris Endeavor went from losing money to making millions, says investor

Egon Durban, managing partner, Silver LakeEgon Durban, managing partner, Silver Lake
Egon Durban, managing partner, Silver Lake

Silicon Valley private equity firm Silver Lake made a really good bet when it acquired a 31% stake in talent agency William Morris Endeavor in 2012.

“Literally, they had a company that was losing money,” Silver Lake managing partner Egon Durban said Tuesday at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen. But this year, he said the talent agency will make a profit, excluding certain costs, of more than $400 million.

“And they’ve done it not by, like, inventing something new but with like, winning a thousand small battles with a ton of grit,” Durban said about the current leadership of talent manager Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.

 

In 2009, Emanuel’s Endeavor Agency and William Morris Agency, which was more than a century old at that point, merged to form William Morris Endeavor. Three years later, Durban and Silver Lake joined the party by buying a stake in the combined company. Durban is notoriously cautious about pouring cash into the so-called “unicorns”—young startups with billion-dollar-plus valuations and high risk—preferring instead to stick with big legacy technology firms. He did, after all, work with Michael Dell on a $25-billion buyout of his company two years ago after meeting Dell at Brainstorm in 2012.