There’s a great new article up on Bloomberg Businessweek that explores the private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts (KKR).  For those not in the know, KKR is one of the most powerful of the private equity companies, holding the title of pulling off the largest leveraged buyout in history at three separate times in its existence.  It’s Manhattan and Menlo Park offices, decorated with art curated by Marie-Josee Kravis, are places where great business stories happen, which is partially why they’re featured in books like the recently released The New Tycoons.

The article within Bloomberg concentrates on the relationship between George Roberts and Henry Kravis, the leading lights of the firm.  Not only are they long-time partners and best friends, but they’re also cousins.   This has shaped how KKR has developed at a intimate level.  The two men seldom go longer than a couple of days without talking and they exist as one entity within the firm.

“We’re two people, with one voice,” Henry Kravis said about his cousin. “If we disagree, we talk it out. If one of is totally against it, it’s not happening.”

“There’s no agenda between Henry and me,” George Roberts explained when asked. “That reinforces everything we’re trying to do at the firm.”

What I found interesting about the article was the way their early hiring process was described.  Rather than simply taking applications and hiring through normal channels, early applicants at KKR were expected to meet every single partner- to the point that rounds of interviews could last for months at a time.  As the firm grew larger this gradually fell away, but there is still an interesting level of commitment from the people who work at KKR.

However, this could be because the two cousins are actively working to build a deep bench of partners that could potentially replace their unique dynamic.  One of the possibilities is Scott Nuttall, head of global capital and asset management, who has been at the company since the early 90’s.  At 39, he’s only a little younger than the man who runs KKR Asset Management, William Sonneborn.

As the cousins get older, however, the eyes of the shareholders and- indeed- much of the partners, likely turns to each other as they try to figure out just how KKR would survive without the unique relationship that the two founders share.

Ryan Boucher is a business student at Penn State and an avid writer on business matters.

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