Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway recently sold Kirby after 35 years of owning the vacuum-cleaner company. The famed investor’s conglomerate rarely sells businesses, and Buffett once prized Kirby as one of Berkshire’s best subsidiaries, making the transaction a notable one.
Berkshire sold Kirby to Right Lane Industries, an industrial holding company that seeks to acquire US-based manufacturing and industrial-services companies, invest in them, and hold them permanently. That strategy chimes with Berkshire’s promise of a “forever home” for the businesses it buys.
Before its sale to Right Lane, Kirby was a division of Scott Fetzer, a manufacturing conglomerate that Berkshire purchased in 1986. Buffett trumpeted the direct seller of vacuum cleaners as one of Scott Fetzer’s crown jewels in his 1985 letter to Berkshire shareholders.
“While the Kirby product is more expensive than most cleaners, it performs in a manner that leaves cheaper units far behind (‘in the dust,’ so to speak),” Buffett said. “Many 30- and 40-year-old Kirby cleaners are still in active duty. If you want the best, you buy a Kirby.”
“This divine assemblage … is a collection of businesses with economic characteristics that range from good to superb,” the investor said in his 1989 letter. “Its managers range from superb to superb.”
Buffett was right about Kirby’s stellar prospects. The company’s annual pre-tax earnings almost tripled to $59 million between 1986 and 1996, and Berkshire’s net earnings from Kirby nearly quadrupled to $40 million over the same period.
Moreover, Kirby generated more profit than all but one of Berkshire’s 10 non-insurance businesses in 1996, and was responsible for about 5% of the conglomerate’s operating earnings that year.
It’s unclear why Scott Fetzer decided to dispose of Kirby, a company it owned for more than 50 years and partnered with for more than a century. Berkshire Hathaway, Scott Fetzer, Right Lane, and Kirby didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider.
The merger of Kraft and Heinz brought lots of changes to the food company. But one of the most immediate was to employees’ food options at the company’s Chicago headquarters.
Within a month of the merger closing in 2015, Kraft Heinz also removed fridges that held snacks for company employees. While it provided Keurig machines, the company did not supply the pods.
“You had to make the coffee yourself, and you had to bring in your own Keurig pods from home,” one former employee told Insider.
That was only the beginning of the cuts at Kraft Heinz, the company behind Oscar Mayer hot dogs and Kool-Aid drink mixes.
In the six years since the merger, the food giant has left few stones unturned to save money, raiding budgets for new products, employee travel, and everything in between. One employee who recently left the company said that when she was in the office she was limited to spending $5 a year on pens, notepads, and other office supplies.
Nine current and former employees spoke with Insider. They described a company that has fallen behind many of its peers in the food industry. They also said the deep cuts have caused morale to plummet and turnover to soar. And though Kraft Heinz got a sales lift during the pandemic as many consumers ate more at home, many said they expect the effect to fade as life returns to normal.
Last April, as the US confronted a historic pandemic, Alex Schneider, cofounder of private-equity firm Clover Capital Partners and adjunct lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School, watched as the private-equity industry pressed pause on deals.
But now, it is safe to say that the pause is over. “There’s a lot of deal-making happening right now, and there’s a lot of money out there to do it,” Schneider said.
Sellers who would’ve gone to market in a normal year but held off are now back in. The US election is over, the markets proved resilient, and vaccines have buoyed hopes of economic recovery. Companies’ values are high, interest rates are low, and PE funds are ready to invest.
“Other than a few weeks’ uncertainty at the end of March and early April 2020, there was substantial liquidity to keep credit markets alive,” Schneider said. “Prior to the pandemic, there had been a lot of wealth created and limited places to invest.”
Which is why Schneider predicts that the next year will be a busy one for these investors.
“Dry powder” and tax planning are fueling buyouts
One reason why the industry has rebounded so quickly is that many PE firms were in strong shape heading into 2020 – and there was a pause on deploying that capital in early stages of the pandemic.
The longest bull market in the US ended in March 2020, Schneider said, leaving PE firms with large reserves to safeguard against an inevitable market downturn. In 2019, so-called “dry powder” totalled $2.5 billion and grew to $2.9 billion in 2020, Bain reported.
As a result, PE firms are now primed to spend on buyouts. And due to President Biden’s proposed changes to the capital-gains tax, there will likely be more assets to acquire. Currently, owners who sell their businesses this year should have their capital gains taxed at 20%. The current administration’s proposal would double that for households making more than $1 million annually. This provides sellers with a strong incentive to close deals in 2021 rather than waiting for later.
“There’s still demand to put capital to work through traditional PE funds,” Schneider said. “There’s going to be a bit of an urgency to deploy some of that capital here in short frame. I definitely would see multiples increasing and higher prices, which I think ultimately benefits sellers. We saw this in 2012 before the capital-gains rates changed from 15% to 20%.”
Competition is heating up
Still, for PE funds looking to invest, deals may not necessarily be easy to come by – and competition for the best companies will be fierce. Private companies looking for funding or an exit now have a range of options including corporations, sophisticated family offices, and Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACS).
“Corporate M&A is starting to pick up again largely because many large companies adapted during the pandemic and restructured – cutting costs and hoarding cash. Many are in a favorable position now to attack market share and innovation through acquisitions,” Schneider said. “That’s particularly true in the food industry, where companies like Kraft, Modolez, General Mills, and Unilever performed well through the pandemic and now have funds to invest.”
Some sophisticated family offices are also staffing up, hiring their own investment professionals to source and execute deals directly, rather than investing in larger “blind-pool” funds. This allows them to reduce the amount of fees they pay for deploying capital. Multigenerational family offices also tend to have a longer investment horizon than the typical three- to five-year hold of a private-equity fund. This longer horizon is often an attractive feature to sellers as well.
SPACS, which the SEC calls “blank check companies,” go public as shell companies without commercial operations. Their only assets are investments and IPO proceeds, which they later leverage to purchase a company. The Wall Street Journal likens them to “big pools of cash listed on an exchange.”
“SPACS go public and then they look for a company to acquire,” Schneider said. “This puts them into competition with a lot of larger private-equity firms. There’s a ton of interest from institutional investors in this strategy right now, even if the market may be overheated at the moment.”
While all of these have existed for decades, they have returned to vogue as companies seek financing options that have a greater deal of liquidity than typical private-equity investments can offer.
Atypical metrics, uncertain recoveries
In addition to fierce competition for deals, PE firms will also face significant challenges gauging the quality of these deals.
With many businesses having endured a highly atypical year, firms are having to find new ways to accurately scrutinize companies’ health. Add to that the difficulty in gauging when certain sectors will fully rebound, and some deals may not be as easy to close as they were in the past.
“PE firms are analyzing year-over-2019, because 2020 was so different,” Schneider said. “The metric that they’re looking at is, how do we compare to the last year of pre-pandemic, and will that be accurate?”
The pandemic has of course wreaked havoc on international supply chains for materials. Lead times have grown substantially, in particular with the global microchip shortage upending the production of machines for factory automation and automobile production. This has left plenty of otherwise promising companies with a lot of demand they cannot execute on.
Ditto for labor. “There’s a need for labor in the market right now, particularly in manufacturing, retail, and the service industry,” Schneider said. “The demand is there for workers, but companies are struggling to hire.”
There is some optimism from business owners that as legacy COVID-19 unemployment programs trail off, the available supply of labor will bounce back, but it will take some time before labor supply and demand reaches equilibrium.
The biggest question for buyers and lenders is how well a company managed risk at a time when the priority went from value creation to value preservation. Those that got through the last year unscathed are going to make attractive targets.
“For a lot of business owners, the past 12 to 18 months have been the most challenging of their career,” Schneider said. “They’ve experienced how events outside of their control could have a very meaningful impact on their business. As a result, many are more open to a sale or financial partner as a way to diversify their own risk. The second half of this year should see a wave of private-equity deals.”
The real estate and construction industries are undergoing a major tech transformation, as startups touting everything from online home-buying to interactive office management software attract millions of dollars in venture funding.
While the property technology space, known as proptech, grew in size and dollars raised year over year, it has exploded during the pandemic. Stragglers who hadn’t yet adopted digital workflows were forced to, and venture capitalists have been pouring money into the firms offering compelling new products in residential real estate, commercial real estate, construction tech, and short-term rentals and hospitality.
Insider has collected 16 pitch decks that the most successful firms have used to raise funding from VCs and private equity firms.
Check out the full collection below. And bookmark this page, because we will continue to update it with new pitch decks.
Residential real estate
Residential real estate, more than any other segment of the market, has been on fire during the pandemic, with home prices and rents in almost every corner of the country skyrocketing. Venture investment into the tech that powers the industry – and helps take it online and streamline formerly tedious processes – has followed. Startups that help investors purchase and manage homes from afar, tools for residential brokers and leasing agents, and digital closing companies that digitize paper-heavy real estate transactions have all raised impressive sums.
Even though COVID-19 has left many offices partially filled and retail stores vacant, startups that help companies make their spaces virus-safe – by, say, keeping track of social distancing or monitoring building ventilation – became extremely important. Firms that promised to reduce friction (and costs) in day-to-day operations by digitizing them also attracted venture investment.
Early in the pandemic, hospitality businesses stalled as travel halted across the globe. Once things opened back up, short-term rental companies with rural locations or a presence in smaller cities started to see the reservations – and funding – pour in. As a vaccinated travel boom looms, the tech-enabled companies rivaling Airbnb that enable flexible tourism, digital nomadism, and remote work are poised to benefit.
Jon Gray still remembers what it was like when he was hired as an entry-level analyst at a seven-year-old private-equity shop in New York City in 1992.
“It was a tiny place … I think there were 80 or 90 people,” Gray said of Blackstone, a firm that would go on to become the world’s largest alternative investment manager and, during Gray’s time as head of global real estate, its largest property owner.
Fresh out of the University of Pennsylvania, Gray was interviewed by the Blackstone cofounders Stephen Schwarzman and Pete Peterson themselves. He couldn’t have predicted that he would eventually be named Blackstone’s president and chief operating officer in 2018, becoming one of the most powerful executives on Wall Street.
“For me, a kid from suburban Chicago, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this seems really exciting.’ And it was obviously terrifying being interviewed,” he recalled. “And by the way, starting was terrifying. I remember being so nervous having my first job here.”
Granted, private-equity firms’ associate hiring is looking a little different than in recent years. Recruiters first delayed the kickoff of the ultra-competitive process in the fall of 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the traditional on-cycle associate recruiting process likely won’t start until late summer or early fall 2021, Insider previously reported.
In October of 2020, we spoke with Gray, headhunters who recruit for the firm, and Blackstone’s global head of human resources to learn what it takes to stand out. From how to ace interviews to deals you need to be familiar with, here’s what they told us.
Cloudera stock jumped as much as 24% on Monday after the software company inked a $5.3 billion deal with private-equity firms KKR & Co. and Clayton Dubilier & Rice to go private.
The private equity firms are set to pay $16 a share in cash to Cloudera investors as a part of the deal, representing a roughly 24% premium to Friday’s closing price.
“We are also pleased to announce our transaction with CD&R and KKR. This transaction provides substantial and certain value to our shareholders while also accelerating Cloudera’s long-term path to hybrid cloud leadership for analytics that span the complete data lifecycle – from the Edge to AI,” Rob Bearden, Cloudera’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
“We believe that as a private company with the expertise and support of experienced investors such as CD&R and KKR, Cloudera will have the resources and flexibility to drive product-led growth and expand our addressable market opportunity,” the CEO added.
Cloudera was founded in 2008 by former Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook engineers Christophe Bisciglia, Amr Awadallah, and Jeff Hammerbacher.
The company provides an enterprise data cloud platform to customers like the Bombay stock exchange, the US census bureau, and Vodafone, among others.
Billionaire and activist investor Carl Icahn, who owns roughly 18% of Cloudera and was awarded two board seats in 2019, has agreed to vote in favor of the deal, according to the company.
Cloudera has seen revenue growth plunge to single digits over the past year from more than 80% back in 2019 amid competition from larger rivals Amazon, Google, and Microsoft in cloud software.
The company reported fiscal 2022 first-quarter revenue of $224.3 million on Monday, an increase of 7% versus the same period last year.
GAAP losses also narrowed in the first quarter to $33.8 million from $55.8 million a year ago.
Operating cash flow swelled to $162.2 million as well, compared to $68.4 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2021.
Due to the announced transaction with CD&R and KKR, Cloudera has canceled its earnings conference call previously scheduled for June 2, 2021, and will not provide financial guidance for the second quarter of fiscal 2022 or any further financial guidance with respect to the fiscal year 2022.
Cloudera stock traded up 23.98% as of 9:57 a.m. ET on Monday.
L Brands, the owner of Victoria’s Secret, is reportedly on the hunt for a new buyer after a deal with a private-equity firm fell through last year, and is seeking more than double what it wanted before.
Sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg wanted a deal that would value the brand at between $2 billion and $3 billion. Previously, Sycamore Partners had agreed to buy a 55% stake in the company for $525 million.
A spokesperson for L Brands did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on Friday morning. L Brands CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer confirmed to Bloomberg that the company wanted a considerably higher valuation this time round, after recouping lost sales at the back end of 2020.
“As a result of the substantial improvement in performance at Victoria’s Secret, various sell-side analysts have valued the business at as much as $5 billion,” Burgdoerfer told Bloomberg.
After several years of sliding sales, the Victoria’s Secret brand has made a comeback in recent quarters after reshuffling management and changing its brand image and marketing, which was accused of being outdated. In a recent note to clients, a group of Jefferies analysts described the brand’s progress as “admirable,” after it reported strong fourth-quarter results.
In March this year, former longtime L Brands CEO Les Wexner stepped down from the board after pressure from investors.
Investment giant Apollo Global Management is offering six-figure retention bonuses to some of its private-equity associates after several young executives quit the firm, Insider has learned.
Seven out of 30 New York City associates have left the firm in recent weeks, Insider previously reported. Current and former employees who spoke with Insider about the exodus described a relentless workload that has become even more intense during the pandemic as the firm – well-known for its distressed buying strategies – pounced on opportunities.
In an effort to stem the exits, Apollo has extended $100,000, $150,000, and $200,000 bonuses for first-year, second year, and third-year associates, respectively, to be paid in April, according to two people familiar with the matter. The bonuses come with the stipulation that associates stay with Apollo at least until September 2022.
And they come on top of pay packages that are already at the top of the market: First-year associates at Apollo receive a total of more than $450,000, according to these people, who declined to speak publicly to preserve their relationships at the firm.
Apollo executives Matt Nord and David Sambur, who co-lead the firm’s private equity group, have been making the offers to employees via phone calls, according to these sources.
Insider could not determine how widespread the bonuses were. One Apollo employee said several associates they had spoken with had not received the bonuses, meaning that the bonuses could have been offered to a select group of associates.
It could also mean that Apollo is in the early stages of rolling out the bonuses.
Joanna Rose, an Apollo spokeswoman, did not address the specific bonuses when asked, but said that the firm’s private-equity business has been and continues to be “extremely active,” putting more than $12 billion to work in the past year across a “diverse set of opportunities.”
“With recent wins such as Sun Country IPO, Diamond/HGV merger and Synnex/TechData merger, we continue to recognize the impact of our extraordinary teams,” she said.
The offers show how far one of the largest investment firms is willing to go to deal with a talent drain among its junior employees, who have grappled with burnout fueled by long-hours and remote work.
They come as concerns about associate morale have cropped up at financial services firms across Wall Street. Last week an internal presentation by 13 demoralized Goldman Sachs analysts described 100-hour work weeks and a mental and physical toll during COVID.
Firms have been taking steps to address the concerns, though no action has been as extreme as Apollo’s. Jefferies has offered Peloton bikes and other workout gear for junior staffers, while Goldman Sachs has vowed to improve conditions for junior bankers, though it has not yet said how.
The additional compensation will make associate jobs at Apollo – already one of the highest-paying entry points on Wall Street – even more lucrative. The typical starting salary of $450,000 for first-years comes with subsequent $100,000 raises annually; third-years can earn up to $725,000, according to these people.
The position offers a four-year career track to principal and, from there, partner – a position that typically earns millions of dollars annually.
Young executives are key to the private-equity group’s success, handling the grunt work of preparing presentations and analyses that higher executives use to evaluate and pursue deals.
The group has been active in recent months, buying a $1.2 billion stake with Silver Lake Partners in the travel website Expedia and a $1.75 billion interest in the grocery-store operator Albertsons. It also recently completed a $2.25 billion deal to control and operate the Venetian resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Apollo’s new CEO, Marc Rowan, has signaled that he prioritizes making Apollo a more enticing place to work. Rowan has said in recent weeks that one of his primary areas of focus will be to improve Apollo’s famously ruthless culture.
Apollo had previously stated that Rowan, a co-founder at the firm who is credited with building its expansive insurance business, would take over the chief executive role from Leon Black, the company’s chief founder, who would relinquish the role by his 70th birthday in July.
In a surprise announcement on Monday, the firm stated that Black would step down immediately and also vacate his role as chairman of Apollo’s board, a position he had previously intended to keep. The firm’s announcement cited health issues as a reason for Black’s change of plans.
Black’s departure followed revelations in an investigation commissioned by Apollo and released at the beginning of the year that he had paid the convicted pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, $158 million for tax and business services.