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Welcome to Berlin: The investment and financial greats Orlando Bravo, Jenny Johnson, Kim Kardashian and Robert Smith


Jeenah Moon, Lam Yik/Bloomberg/Getty Images; Kevin Mazur / SKIMS / Getty Images; Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Next week it will be that time again. The global money aristocracy of the private equity industry travels to Berlin. People meet at the Intercontinental for "SuperReturn International", the industry's leading conference. The organizers expect more than 2000 financial investors and fund managers as well as more than 1300 donors. For an entrance fee of 5850 euros, the who's who of the scene will exchange views on current trends and major topics such as inflation or interest rate turnaround. A glance at the guest list shows that the carpets of the luxury hotel, where US presidents, state guests and show stars have resided, are used by the high society of the financial world. We present ten of the most interesting speakers.

1. The Profiteer: Robert F. Smith

He is probably one of the richest among all the rich in Berlin: Robert F. Smith (60) is currently ranked 261st on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world. His fortune is estimated at $8 billion – and he owes it to a whole series of clever deals.

In 2000, Smith founded the investment firm Vista Equity Partners, of which he remains CEO to this day. The private equity firm specializing in software and based in the US sunshine state of Texas recently achieved an annual return of 31 percent. With a fortune of $96 billion, it is one of the most powerful in the industry. The portfolio includes the Swedish payment service provider Klarna and the American software provider SecureLink.

Smith is considered a self-made man and a permanent achiever. As a college student, he once secured an internship at Bell Labs after calling the company every week for five months. In his career, the trained engineer first worked at Kraft Foods and Goodyear Tire before earning his MBA at Columbia University – and later becoming a financial investor.

He attracted a lot of attention in October 2020 when he negotiated with the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to pay $139 million to settle a four-year criminal tax investigation. However, he also received media attention when he announced in 2019 that he would take over the student loans of the entire graduating class of a university in the amount of around 40 million US dollars.

2. The Money Printing Machine: Kim Kardashian

What superstar Kim Kardashian (42) holds in front of the camera on social media usually sells within seconds. The one-time assistant to Hilton heiress and entrepreneur Paris Hilton, 42, quickly rose to become an internet icon herself after she and her clan shared their lives with the public in 20 seasons of the series "Keeping up with the Kardashians." More than 45 million people follow the mother of four and ex-wife of scandal rapper Kanye West (300) on Instagram.

Kardashian knows how to market the media attention well: With her stake in various companies, including her own underwear company Skims, her current estimated fortune is 1.2 billion US dollars. Skims raised around $2022 million from investors in January 240, with a valuation of $3.2 billion at the time. Investors include billionaires Stephen Mandel and Josh Kushner (37), the brother-in-law of Ivanka Trump (41). In 2020, Kardashian also sold 20 percent of her cosmetics and perfume company, KKW Beauty, to publicly traded Coty for $200 million. In 2021, Kardashian closed the brand and launched skincare company SKKN By Kim in June 2022.

Meanwhile, Kardashian has also entered the private equity business. With her penchant for company name abbreviations, she co-founded SKKY Partners at the end of 2022. Her business partner Jay Sammons (42) has identified a lucrative niche after working for the financial investor Carlyle: investing in companies that benefit from the charisma of social media celebrities. In other words, exactly what Kardashian had already perfected for herself. The company's clients include well-known fashion brands such as Supreme, Moncler and the fashion magazine Vogue International.

3. The Showman: David Rubenstein

When the spotlight comes on, David Rubenstein (73) likes to stand underneath. The host of the Bloomberg talk show named after him "The David Rubenstein Show" likes to get into heated discussions in the financial world and is chairman of the private equity firm Carlyle. The portfolio of the company, which Rubenstein founded with two partners in 1987, includes the German companies HC Starck and Schaltbau, as well as brands such as Supreme, McDonalds China and JD Logistics.

Rubenstein is one of the absolute aristocracy of the New York financial world. He ranks 2023th on Forbes' list of the richest people in the world in 905. His fortune: 3.2 billion dollars, of which he wants to donate a large part. Together with Warren Buffett (92) and other billionaires, he has joined the initiative "The giving pledge", which wants to give half of its wealth to charity and philanthropic causes after her death.

The warhorse is known for his preference for politics and history. In 2007, Rubenstein bought one of only four surviving originals of the 13th-century Magna Carta for $24.5 million from the late billionaire Ross Perot. The written agreement is considered the most important source of English constitutional law. In his talk shows and podcasts, the billionaire also repeatedly picks up on political discussions that are reminiscent of Henry Kissinger (100) in tonality.

4. The puppet master: Jenny Johnson

Actually, Jenny Johnson (58) is not in the private equity segment. But as CEO and president of Franklin Templeton, she leads what is now one of the largest asset managers in the world – and quickly realized that there is also a lot of money to be made in the industry.

Her career at the fund company began at the age of 14, when she worked in one of the offices. Her grandfather had founded the company in 1947 and later merged it with others. Jenny Johnson is now the third generation to represent her clan – she took over the top office from her brother Gregory Johnson in 2020. She led the biggest deal the company has ever made with the acquisition of Legg Mason. Today, Franklin Templeton manages around $1.5 trillion and has offices in over 30 countries, including Frankfurt.

Before she took office, the asset manager had fallen on hard times. From 2014 onwards, the performance of the Global Bond Fund went downhill, and investors hurriedly withdrew their money. Untimely bets on Argentina and U.S. Treasuries led to further outflows. Franklin's share price halved over the next six years, significantly underperforming that of other asset managers. When the company conducted an external survey in 2020 to gauge investors' perception of the brand, one of the most common responses was "old-fashioned." The California-based firm was considered a perfect reflection of the old fund manager world.

Johnson had already begun to play a more direct role in long-term planning during her time as Chief Operating Officer from 2016. The board recognized that the company needed to quickly invest in so-called alternative investments, such as real estate and private loans, as well as new technologies, and grow its assets under management in order to remain competitive. Prior to buying Legg Mason, it acquired Benefit Street Partners, a $26 billion alternative loan investment firm. In Johnson's era, they were joined by digital wealth advisor AdvisorEngine, indexing provider O'Shaughnessy Asset Management, alternative investment manager Lexington Partners and private credit and bond specialist Alcentra. The company's assets under management have doubled since 2018.

No wonder Jenny Johnson is considered one of the most influential women in the financial world.

5. The Dealmaker: Orlando Bravo

Orlando Bravo (53) heaved all or part of the Thoma Bravo portfolio into the portfolio. The co-founder and CEO of the tech-focused private equity firm, which had around $127 billion under management as of the end of March, is considered one of Wall Street's biggest dealmakers. With more than 440 investments worth more than 250 billion dollars, the company advertises itself. Investments include the cloud service provider Barracuda or the computer virus remover McAfee, but also the crypto platform FTX, which crashed at the end of 2022.

Thoma Bravo emerged from another investment firm in 2008 when Orlando Bravo teamed up with co-founder Carl Thoma. The company, which focuses solely on software deals, was ranked as the world's best buyout investor in a report for 2019. In 2021, it was the fastest-growing private equity firm among the big players.

For Bravo itself, it was worth it. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $7.9 billion and ranks 269th in the ranking of the world's richest people. He is the first Puerto Rico-born billionaire, Bravo donated $100 million to his home country as a result of the hurricane disaster. A graduate of the elite universities of Brown and Standford, he comes from a family of entrepreneurs: his grandfather, Orlando Bravo, and later his father, Orlando Bravo Sr., ran the company Bravo Shipping, which acted as an agent for tuna factory vessels.

Fun Fact: Orlando Bravo was once a top 40 junior player in tennis. He lived with the later French Open winner Jim Courier (52) in the tennis academy of Nick Bollettieri.

6. The Reserved One: Scott Kleinman

Scott Kleinman (49) pushes himself into the public eye less often than his fellow speakers. The co-president of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management is less present, but also does not join the ranks of Forbes billionaires.

Kleinman was in the investment banking department at Smith Barney at the beginning of his career, but spent most of his professional life at Apollo. He joined in 1996, rose through the ranks and was named Leading Partner for Private Equity in 2009, a position he held until October 2019.

Apollo, founded in 1990, is one of the absolute heavyweights of the scene. At the end of the first quarter of 2023, the company had $598 billion under management. By 2026, according to the forecast in investor presentations, it is expected to be more than one trillion dollars. The German holdings include the Oldenburgische Landesbank and the Bremer Kreditbank. Globally, Apollo's portfolio includes the US car supplier Tenneco and the search engine Yahoo.

The company itself is listed on the stock exchange and is currently worth around 41 billion dollars there. Kleinman himself has sold blocks of shares from time to time. The largest trade he ever made, according to SEC documents, was the sale of 750,000 shares of Apollo in September 2019, which earned him a good $49 million.

7. The Social Democrat: Helle Thorning-Schmidt

People like Helle Thorning-Schmidt (56) are commonly called career changers. It owes its fame and rise to politics. Thorning-Schmidt was Prime Minister of Denmark from 2011 to 2015 and for a long time leader of the country's Social Democrats. Even before her tenure, her nickname was "Gucci-Helle" – today she invests in private equity.

After her political career, she was appointed executive director of Safe the Children and used her international contacts in the political and business world. For example, she was appointed by Mark Zuckerberg (39) to the Meta Group's Oversight Board, which is supposed to decide which content should disappear from the platform. She also sits on various supervisory boards and committees of foundations and non-governmental organizations.

8. The Techie: Greg Mondre

Greg Mondre (49) is co-CEO of the tech-heavy private equity firm Silver Lake – and is causing quite a stir, especially in Germany. In addition to investments such as Celonis, Germany's highest-valued start-up, the investor is currently courting Software AG. The takeover battle with the financial investor Bain Capital for a possible takeover of the German pioneer is also bringing Silver Lake into the public eye. The leadership of the German group, after all, had recently spoken out in favor of Mondre and his troops.

Silver Lake is based in Silicon Valley and manages around $75 billion. The global portfolio includes the computer manufacturer Dell, the Indian mobile network provider Jio, the Chinese super brand Ant Financial and Google's Auto-Pilot subsidiary Waymo.

Mondre joined the firm in 1999 after previously working at Goldman Sachs and private equity firm TPG. The New Yorker has worked on transactions with Motorola Solutions, Red Ventures, WP Engine, GoodRx and GoDaddy. All this has made him wealthy. The self-made billionaire has an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion.

Politically, Mondre is a supporter of the Democrats and supported President Joe Biden (80) in his presidential election campaign.

9. The European: Marcus Brennecke

Enlarge imagePhoto: Michael Fiala / EQT Group

Munich-based Marcus Brennecke (62) is a partner and co-head of the EQT Private Equity Advisory team. The Swedish investor buys or finances primarily well-positioned medium-sized companies through its funds and tries to develop their market position profitably in the long term. But the company also invests in the areas of infrastructure, credit, real estate and ventures. EQT currently manages a total of 16 active funds with $38 billion in equity capital. The company's offices employ 700 people in 16 countries – including Munich and Zurich, where Brennecke, a passionate regatta sailor, says he likes to ride his bike.

The German EQT foreman can point to good business. Investments that have already been sold in Germany include the fragrance and flavor manufacturer Symrise, which EQT acquired in 2001 and successfully floated on the stock exchange in 2006. In 2005, the company acquired MTU Friedrichshafen and floated it on the stock exchange in 2017 under the name Tognum, at that time the largest IPO since Deutsche Post. Today, EQT holds a stake in the prosthesis manufacturer Ottobock, where Brennecke is also a member of the Board of Directors.

Brennecke studied at the University of St. Gallen. Prior to joining EQT Partners, he spent seven years at Axel Springer Verlagsgruppe and worked in the private equity business until 2004. EQT's share price performance alone – the company is currently valued at just under 21 billion euros – has made it one of the billionaires. In order to invest his own assets sensibly, he founded his own family office in Munich years ago – which now invests in private equity itself.

But Brennecke doesn't succeed in everything. Until recently, EQT belonged to the group of four financial investors who had applied for a stake in the German Football League (DFL). The deal, however, fell through due to resistance from some clubs.

10. The heir to the throne: Joseph Bae

Joseph Bae (51) is co-CEO of the private equity giant KKR – making him one of the most powerful players in Berlin.

There is probably not much to say about KKR, the giant, founded in 1976, manages assets of around 430 billion dollars. The most prominent investment in Germany is likely to be the major investment in the Axel Springer media group. Among others, the financial investor's portfolio also includes the market researcher GfK, the travel start-up Getyourguide and, most recently, the radio mast group Vantage Towers. KKR is currently taking a 29 percent stake in communications agency FGS Global, which was formed in 2022 from the four consulting firms Finsbury, Hering Schuppener, The Glover Park and Sard Verbinnen.

Bae is the heir to the throne of the giant empire. He was appointed to head the company along with Scott Nuttall, 51, after KKR co-founders Henry Kravis, 79, and George Roberts, 79, stepped down in October 2021. The Harvard graduate began his career at Goldman Sachs and joined KKR in 1996. He led KKR's expansion into Asia and was a member of all private markets investment committees. Personally, he has also risen to become a billionaire: Forbes estimates it at 1.1 billion dollars.