With Sudden Exit of Kewsong Lee, Carlyle Looks for New CEO

Lee is stepping down prior to his five-year contract expiration date, with co-founder William Conway taking on the CEO role once again.

Kewsong Lee (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg)

Kewsong Lee

(Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg)

After four-and-a-half years at the helm, Carlyle Group’s chief executive officer Kewsong Lee is stepping down.

Lee’s departure comes earlier than expected: In 2017, he signed a five-year contract that was set to be up by the end of 2022.

According to Carlyle’s late Sunday announcement, “both the company’s board of directors and Mr. Lee mutually agreed as part of their discussions that the timing is right to initiate a search for a new CEO to lead Carlyle forward in its next phase of growth.”

The announcement said Lee would step down from his CEO and board of directors posts “today” — Sunday, August 7 — but that he’ll be available “as needed” to help with the leadership transition in the months to come. The $376 billion publicly-traded private equity firm has named William Conway, co-founder, former co-CEO, and non-executive co-chairman of the board as interim CEO.

The board has already formed a new search committee, which plans to immediately hire an executive search firm.

“I feel immense pride in our many accomplishments during these complex and challenging times, especially the firm’s record financial results, strong investment performance, and continued leadership on DEI and ESG initiatives,” Lee said in a statement. “Diversified and durable, Carlyle is now well-positioned to capitalize on many exciting areas of attractive growth.”

Lee joined Carlyle in 2013 as deputy CIO for corporate private equity. In 2016, he added to that role, taking on leadership of the global credit division. Before joining Carlyle, he spent 21 years at Warburg Pincus, most recently as a partner and member of the executive management group.

Carlyle named Lee co-CEO alongside Glenn Youngkin in late 2017. Youngkin retired from the role in July 2020, before running in — and winning — Virginia’s gubernatorial election in 2021. The pair had succeeded co-founders David Rubenstein and Conway as co-CEOs.

“As Carlyle undertakes this process to select a new leader, we do so from a position of strength, a testament to the performance of our talented team,” Conway said in a statement. “Looking ahead, our objective remains to execute on our vision of enhancing scale, speed, and performance in order to grow and deliver sustainable results, in any investment environment.”

Carlyle has also established an office of the CEO, which will include a number of Carlyle executives who will help Conway fulfill his duties, the announcement said. These executives include Peter Clare, chief investment officer for corporate private equity and chairman for Americas private equity; head of global credit Mark Jenkins; head of global investment solutions Ruulke Bagijn; chief financial officer Curtis Buser; chief operating officer Christopher Finn; and chief human resources officer Bruce Larson.

Finn has decided to defer his previously-announced retirement in the wake of this news.

“Going forward, the company will benefit from a fresh perspective to build upon its strengths and capitalize fully on its long-term future growth opportunities, regardless of macroeconomic headwinds,” said Lawton Fitt, lead independent director at Carlyle, in a statement.