MERCHANTS OF DEBT: KKR and the Mortgaging of American Business by George Anders

MERCHANTS OF DEBT: KKR and the Mortgaging of American Business

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A revealing, albeit low-key, history of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., from a savvy Wall Street Journal correspondent who covers the leveraged buyout beat. During the merger mania of the 1980's, the tiny Manhattan-based firm of KKR wielded incredible economic power by dint of its ability to identify attractive targets and raise money to buy them. While the good times rolled, the partnership gobbled scores of sizable enterprises (Beatrice, Duracell, Lily-Tulip, Owens-Illinois, RJR Nabisco, Safeway, etc.), earning a handful of insiders and investors princely sums. As Anders makes clear, however, control changes were hard on affected companies and their employees. KKR acquisitions were invariably obliged to soldier on with austerity budgets, debt-burdened balance sheets, and greatly reduced payrolls; as often as not, they also had to make do without crown-jewel assets that had been stripped to recoup upfront funds, pay off lenders and advisors, or simply enrich the deal's ground-floor participants. While Anders doesn't portray KKR principals Henry Kravis and George Roberts as villains of the piece, he leaves little doubt that the gracious, if predatory, cousins put no stock in the human costs of their maneuverings but simply played the great game of an era harder and better than their rivals. Overtaken by events and public opinion, moveover, they've now become apostles of the principle of equity over debt. And for all the lost jobs, closed plants, disrupted lives, and allied upheavals, Anders concludes, the heyday of casino capitalism was essentially a wash from a macroeconomic standpoint. A thoughtful audit of a consequential Wall Street partnership and its impact. The text, proofs of which were sent to reviewers minus a ""sensitive"" chapter on KKR's interim woes with its RJR Nabisco properties, has 16 pages of photos--not seen.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1992
ISBN: 1587981254
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Basic Books