Merchants of Debt: KKR and the Mortgaging of American Business

Overview

For more than a decade, Henry Kravis and George Roberts have been archetypes, first of Wall Street's boom years and then of its excesses. Their story and that of their firm--the biggest, most successful, and most controversial participant in the age of leverage--illuminates an entire era of financial maneuvering and speculative mania. Kravis and Roberts wrote their way into the history books by concocting one giant takeover after another. Their technique: the leveraged buyout, an audacious way to acquire a ...
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Overview

For more than a decade, Henry Kravis and George Roberts have been archetypes, first of Wall Street's boom years and then of its excesses. Their story and that of their firm--the biggest, most successful, and most controversial participant in the age of leverage--illuminates an entire era of financial maneuvering and speculative mania. Kravis and Roberts wrote their way into the history books by concocting one giant takeover after another. Their technique: the leveraged buyout, an audacious way to acquire a company with borrowed money, borrowed management--and a lot of nerve. Their firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., dominated the Wall Street scene in the late 1980s, acquiring one Fortune 500 company after another, including Safeway, Duracell, Motel 6, and RJR Nabisco. Merchants of Debt draws on more than 200 interviews, including recurring access to the central figures and their KKR associates, as well as court documents and private correspondence to couch giant financial issues in human terms. The story of KKR shows how pride, jealousy, fear, and ambition fueled Wall Street's debt mania--with consequences that affected hundreds of thousands of people. Anders addresses three questions: Why did American business become so enchanted by debt in the 1980s? How exactly did Kravis and Roberts rise to the top of the heap? What have buyouts, especially KKR's deals, done to America's economic strength? Here is a gripping saga that takes readers behind closed boardroom doors to show how star-struck young bankers, ruthless deal-makers, and nervous CEOs changed one another's lives--and the whole American economy--over a fifteen-year span.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This inside look from a Wall Street Journal reporter at massive leveraged-buyout operations of the Manhattan-based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts financial partnership during the 1980s is beautifully organized and written in immediate and lively prose. Anders explains how KKR, with incredible audacity, borrowed billions in cash from investment bankers, pension plans, college endowments and even their takeover targets' willing management to buy and saddle with heavy deductible debut such giant corporations as Safeway, Beatrice, Duracell and RJR Nabisco. After quick and ruthless efficiency measures were imposed on the corporations to enhance earnings and pay off the debt, assets were then resold, yielding millions of dollars in fees and profits. The game collapsed with the 1990 onset of recession, and the author here reveals how KKR leadership survived while other financiers went under or to jail. First serial to Wall Street Journal. (June)
Library Journal
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) was founded in New York in 1976 by three enterprising investment bankers, Jerry Kohlberg, George Kravis, and George Roberts, with the simple purpose of assisting companies to participate in management-led buyouts or leveraged buyouts (LBOs). While its origins were humble, KKR's lifespan to date has not been, having spent almost $60 billion in 38 buyouts of companies, which resulted in a reshaping of corporate America. Wall Street Journal reporter Anders chronicles the rise of KKR during the 1980s, the ``age of debt,'' and shows how a simple formula using borrowed money could be successfully repeated over and over again in corporate takeovers, bringing untold wealth and power to the men of KKR and to their investors. The pinnacle of success for KKR was the RJR Nabisco buyout in 1989 costing $26.4 billion (this is covered at length in Bryan Burrough and John Helyar's Barbarians at the Gate , LJ 1/90). Unfortunately, the free-spending 1980s gave way to the recessionary 1990s, and KKR's fortunes similarly declined, with its partnership unraveling. This compelling book is recommended for all business collections.-- Richard Drezen, Merrill Lynch Lib., New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465045235
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Pages: 368

Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction
1 Courting CEOs 1
2 The Growing Allure of Debt 19
3 In Pursuit of Profits 42
4 How to Talk to Banks 60
5 The Enchanting World of Drexel 82
6 The Takeover Minstrels 109
7 The Mentor's Fall 133
8 Ruling an Industrial Empire 156
9 The Discipline of Debt 176
10 Cashing Out 194
11 "We Don't Have Any Friends" 214
12 Credit Crunch 232
13 Fear, Humbling, and Survival 250
14 Debt Is Out, Equity Is In 272
Appendix: KKR's Buyouts 285
Notes 295
Index 319
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