KKR’s co-founders Henry Kravis and George Roberts are bowing out as co-chief executive officers, according to a company statement on Monday. They will remain active on the board as executive co-chairmen.
Kravis and Roberts, who are cousins, founded the private equity firm in 1976 with Jerome Kohlberg, their manager in the corporate finance department at Bear Stearns in the late 1960s and early ’70s. In the following decade, the firm completed a series of notable transactions, including the $25 billion leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. The deal was the largest leveraged buyout at the time and was documented in the book Barbarians at the Gate, which was later made into an HBO television film.
Kohlberg left KKR in 1987, leaving Kravis and Roberts to co-lead the firm for the next three decades. He died of cancer in 2015.
The cousins will now entrust the firm’s future to Joe Bae, 49, and Scott Nuttall, 48, both of whom joined KKR in 1996 and have worked as co-presidents and co-chief operating officers for the past four years. KKR’s share price has tripled since the two men joined the company’s board of directors in 2017, according to the statement. “As co-presidents and co-chief operating officers, they have worked collaboratively and cemented a strong leadership team that has taken the firm to new heights,” said Kravis and Roberts.
With Bae and Nuttall leading the company alongside Kravis and Roberts, KKR’s AUM grew from $148 billion to $429 billion as of June 30, according to Kristi Huller, KKR director of communications. Earlier this year, they expanded KKR’s fixed-income investment with the $5 billion acquisition of the insurance company Global Atlantic. “Joe and Scott grew up at KKR, and their role models were co-leaders — [something] that is very much in the DNA of the firm today,” Huller said in an e-mail. “Under their leadership, KKR has performed extremely well [for the last four years]. This is a testament to the fact that joint leadership — specifically their joint leadership — works.”
Bae has developed KKR’s Asia-Pacific strategies and built the firm’s private markets businesses, while Nuttall has overseen KKR’s public markets businesses in credit, hedge funds, capital markets, and insurance.
“We have spent virtually our entire careers at KKR because Henry and George are visionaries who not only shaped the business world but created a really special firm,” Bae and Nuttall said. “We are fortunate to have learned from and been mentored and inspired by two of the world’s most innovative investors of all time.”
Besides the new appointment of co-CEOs, KKR also announced “a series of transformative structural and governance changes,” including eliminating the controlling preferred stock held by Kravis and Roberts at the end of 2026. Shareholders will be able to “vote on a one vote per share basis” on issues like the election of directors, a move that increases the rights of KKR’s common stockholders.