LBO Kings Go Clubbin'
Equity Firms Team Up to Take Companies Private
by David Stires, FORTUNE

(FORTUNE Magazine) - The Grand Ballroom at the Pierre Hotel in New York City is an unlikely place to hear people talk about "clubbin'," particularly when they're Wall Streeters wearing expensive suits. But that was the hot topic of conversation at the 18th annual private-equity conference sponsored by the trade magazine Buyouts in early March--a gathering that some describe as the "Davos of private equity."

In this context, "clubbin' " refers to equity firms teaming up to take large companies private. The transactions typically involve obscene sums of money and grab big headlines, such as last year's $15 billion leveraged buyout of Hertz by Clayton Dubilier & Rice, the Carlyle Group, and Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity. And while clubbin' is a relatively new phenomenon, the consensus at the conference was that this party is just getting started. "It's definitely here to stay," says Alan Holt, Carlyle's co-head of U.S. buyouts.

Business at private-equity firms has never been hotter. Last year shops spent about $200 billion on 845 deals, nearly 50% more money than in 2004 and eight times what was deployed in 2001. Many iconic American names have been snapped up (e.g., Neiman Marcus, Toys "R" Us, Dunkin' Donuts), and as billions continue to flow into private equity, the spending spree looks certain to continue. With club deals making new firms into instant players, Neil Simpkins of the Blackstone Group predicts that soon "you'll see even bigger deals." Top of page