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Carlyle CEO’s sudden exit puts the private equity giant back at square zero

August 9, 2022, 12:52 PM UTC

Five years ago, Bill Conway had bid Carlyle Group investors a farewell on the company’s third quarter earnings call: “I’m grateful to all of you who participated on these calls for the past 21 quarters with me.”

At the time, Conway and his co-CEO David Rubenstein, two of the private equity giant’s co-founders, had just alerted investors that they were taking a step back from day-to-day management. They had laid out a carefully crafted succession plan that would entrust the leadership of the then-$170 billion private equity and alternative asset manager to Glenn Youngkin, a 23-year U.S. and European buyout vet within Carlyle, and Kewsong Lee, a two-decade Warburg Pincus partner the company had scooped up in 2013.

But that succession plan never quite landed. Youngkin left in 2020 and shortly after became Virginia’s next governor. And now, Lee—Carlyle’s lone-standing CEO—has suddenly resigned. 

Late Sunday evening, Carlyle said that, with Lee’s five-year contract set to expire at the end of 2022, he and the board had agreed to part ways. While the company says Lee will make himself available as needed, he has immediately dropped his executive position, as well as his position on the board, so it doesn’t sound like those conversations went well. (A Carlyle spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment)

All that being said, Carlyle is back to square zero when it comes to leadership. The company has reinstated co-founder Conway as chief executive (welcome back!) and has quickly assembled a search committee to look for other options. Christopher Finn, Carlyle’s COO, who had been hoping to retire by the end of this year, isn’t going anywhere for the time being. 

“We’re not sure what to make of the sudden departure,” Morningstar sector strategist Greggory Warren wrote in an analyst note yesterday afternoon, adding that the company’s declining stock price this year likely wasn’t doing Lee any favors. 

Carlyle’s shares closed at $35.29, down more than 6% since the news broke. But the stock is down nearly 35% from the beginning of January. Other private equity giants are faring better—although not that much better. KKR’s shares are down more than 28% year-to-date, compared to nearly 20% at Apollo.

Private equity firms that trade on the public exchanges may be able to double dip into capital from both the private and public markets—but they aren’t immune to the scrutiny of public shareholders, who seem to be spending plenty of time speculating which private equity portfolios will hold up long-term in this downturn, and whether limited partners, who are starting to see their own performance falter, will maintain the same kind of appetite for writing checks.

In 2021, Carlyle had raised a whopping $51 billion in capital from its LPs—two-thirds of which came from its credit, real estate, solutions, infrastructure, and renewables businesses. This year doesn’t appear to be on track to reach those levels: The company is fundraising for 20+ strategies this year, it said, and had raised $19 billion in the first six months—$10 billion in this past quarter. 

“Look, no doubt, the fundraising market is challenging right now, and this could persist for a bit as LPs adjust to market dynamics,” Lee had told investors during the company’s latest earnings call at the end of July. Fundraising had been hardest for Carlyle’s corporate private equity (Carry funds for its corporate private equity portfolio didn’t appreciate at all this quarter and have only appreciated 3% year-to-date). The firm was still seeing “strong and healthy demand” from its global credit, infrastructure, renewables, and solutions funds, according to Lee.

Carlyle has been in a period of flux. In Feb. 2021, a few months after Lee had become the sole CEO, the company announced a new strategic plan to accelerate its growth, which included further diversifying its revenue streams. But Warren critiques that the firm is still small compared to its largest publicly-traded competitors “in an industry where investors are increasingly focused on firms that have meaningful scale” in the PE, real estate, credit, or hedge fund segments.

Carlyle has recently lost a couple of its investment professionals, including Jay Simmons, who had been head of media, consumer, and retail, and Ashley Evans, a technology, media, and telecommunications group partner, who left in July for Francisco Partners.

While Lee had been “generally well-regarded by the investment community,” according to Rufus Hone, a BMO Capital Markets analyst, he said in a note that he doesn’t anticipate the sudden change will impact Carlyle’s fundraising plans, and is expecting minimal impact—particularly after a new replacement is found.

Carlyle’s stock performance the rest of this year may speak for itself. If you personally have further information on Lee’s departure, you know where to find me.

‘Somewhat delirious’… SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son yesterday addressed the company’s $23 billion loss between April and June—its most significant quarterly loss in SoftBank’s history. “When we were turning out big profits, I became somewhat delirious, and looking back at myself now, I am quite embarrassed and remorseful,” he said. You can read more here.

More jobs disappearing… Daily Harvest, the frozen vegan food delivery startup at the center of ongoing allegations of a food poisoning scandal, has cut 15% of its employees, a source with knowledge of the situation told my colleague (The company declined to comment). You can read more here.

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Shopic, a Tel Aviv-based smart grocery shopping cart startup, raised $35 million in Series B funding. Qualcomm Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Vintage Investment Partners, Clal Insurance, IBI Tech Fund, Tal Ventures, Claridge Israel, and Shufersal.

- Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, raised $25 million in Series B funding. Ara Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco

- Project Solar, a Lehi, Utah-based e-commerce brand for solar installations, raised $23 million in Series A funding led by Left Lane Capital.  

- Forage, a San Francisco-based payments processor for accepting SNAP EBT payments online, raised $22 million in Series A funding. Nyca led the round and was joined by investors including PayPal Ventures, EO Ventures, Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta, and other angels. 

- KatKin, a London-based fresh food pet tech platform, raised $22 million in Series A funding. Verlinvest and Perwyn led the round and were joined by investors including Octopus Ventures and other angels. 

- CreatorDAO, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based Web3 project focused on investing in content creators, raised $20 million in seed funding. A16z and Initialized Capital led the round and were joined by investors including Paris Hilton’s 11:11 Media, The Chainsmokers’ Mantis Ventures, Liam Payne, Michael Ovtiz, M13, Audacious Ventures, 6th Man Ventures, Abstract Ventures, and Liquid 2 Ventures.

 - Evidence Partners, an Ottawa-based literature review automation software company, raised $20 million in funding. Thomvest Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Pender Ventures and Export Development Canada

- Spin Technology, a Palo Alto-based SaaS data protection platform developer, raised $16 million in Series A funding. Blueprint Equity led the round and was joined by investors including Santa Barbara Venture Partners and Blu Venture Investors

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Vista Equity Partners agreed to acquire Avalara, a Seattle-based tax-management software provider, for $8.4 billion including debt. 

- ​​FloWorks, backed by Clearlake Capital Group, acquired Flotech, a Jacksonville, Fla., Charleston, S.C., and Mobile, Ala.-based distributor and servicer of industrial valves. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

GreenGroup, backed by Abris Capital Partners, acquired UAB Ecso, a Vilnius, Lithuania-based recycling company. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- WilliamsMarston, backed by Align Capital Partners, acquired Oracle Capital, a Tuscon, Ariz.-based valuation consulting services provider to pre-IPO, public, and private equity-backed companies. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

OTHER

- Pfizer agreed to acquire Global Blood Therapeutics, a South San Francisco-based sickle-cell disease drug developer, in a deal worth $5.4 billion. 

- Whirlpool agreed to acquire Insinkerator, the Mount Pleasant, Wisc.-based garbage-disposal business of Emerson Electric, for $3 billion.

- QinetiQ agreed to acquire Avantus, a McLean, Va.-based cybersecurity firm, from NewSpring for $590 million. 

- Cox Enterprises agreed to acquire Axios Media, a Washington D.C. area-based news outlet, for $525 million. 

- Edge Autonomy acquired Adaptive Energy, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based solid oxide fuel cells designer and manufacturer for backup, off grid, and UAV power. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- NinjaCat acquired Shape.io, a Bend, Ore.-based pay-per-click budget management software suite. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

SPAC

- NUBURU, a Centennial, Colo.-based industrial blue lasers developer and manufacturer, agreed to go public via a merger with Tailwind Acquisition Corp., a SPAC. A deal is valued at approximately $334 million.

PEOPLE

- Jump Capital, a Chicago-based venture capital firm, hired Trisha Degg as vice president of talent platform and Ola Jewusiak as director of marketing. Formerly, Degg was with Provi and Jewusiak was with Sharp Capital Advisors.

- Pretium, a New York-based investment firm, hired Lauren Cipicchio as senior managing director and head of central quantitative strategies. Formerly, she was with CPP Investments

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