The Amazing Life And Times Of Teddy Forstmann, The Godfather Of Private Equity

theodore forstmann with padma lakshmi

Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Teddy Forstmann pioneered private equity in the late 1970s and 80s. He was the first man to use borrowed money to buy a company, fix it, and then sell it for profit.Last night he died of brain cancer at age 71, the NYT reports, and he will be remembered for his amazing record of charitable giving, and for living a life surrounded by glamorous women and powerful people.

Forstmann was born into a wealthy Connecticut family and attended Yale and Columbia.

  • His Grandfather was one of the richest men in the world, and owned a fabric company.
  • He became obsessed with doing deals early in life, after reading a book about Howard Hughes. 'This guy (Hughes)loved doing deals,' he told the Associated Press in 1996.
  • He eventually went to Yale, where he played goalie for the ice hockey team, and graduated from Columbia Law School. He paid for law school by gambling at bridge.

He founded his private equity firm Forstmann Little and Company in 1978

He had a significant role in the biggest deal in PE history — RJR Nabisco in 1988

And then he started criticising all the LBOs.

Around 2001, he started thinking we were headed for trouble again.

He kept doing deals his way— his latest project was talent agency for models and athletes, IMG.

He bought the company in 2004 for $750 million--it manages the like of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer (via NYT) He also thought he over-paid for it saying, ''It was a piece of sh%t''... but he still wanted to turn it into gold:

''What I want to do is build IMG,'' he said, ''and I'd like to do it quicker than I was going to.'

And here's why:

He says he is in a rush for a reason: ''I want to make a bunch of money now, stick it in a charitable trust and give it away.'

Some say he bought IMG so he could meet models — he had a great love life.

But he's also been linked to Princess Diana

He said they broke up but ended up being friends until she died.

And Elizabeth Hurley

Forstmann is godfather to Hurley's son.

His real passion was giving, especially to children.

Forstmann adopted two boys from South Africa after being invited there by Nelson Mandela to speak about democratic capitalism (he admired Mandela til the end of his life). When asked why he took an interest in African children he told the NYT: 'They're helpless.'

He also signed 'The Giving Pledge,' along with Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett a vow to give away more than 50 per cent of his wealth to philanthropy. But after the dinner, he said he told Mr. Bloomberg, ''Mike, I already do this. I don't need any formal pledge.''

But he didn't give along with all the other NYC socialites, he did his own thing.

  • In 1999 he founded the Children's Scholarship Fund with John T. Walton, the son of the Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, to offer scholarships allowing underprivileged children to attend private schools using vouchers. He donated $50 million.
  • In 1992 he founded Aspen Colorado's Silver Lining Ranch for terminally ill kids.
  • He also sponsored the 'Huggy Bear' charity tennis match at his house in Southampton for 25 years. He invited tennis stars like Martina Navratilova to play.

Ultimately, he didn't love the financial industry that he helped to shape.

Before he died, his thoughts on the financial services industry were pretty dark (via NYT):

On Wall Street:

''I don't recognise it. They're all a bunch of traders. Instead of trading thousands they're trading trillions,'' he said. ''There are no more John Whiteheads or anything like that,'' referring to the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs.

On private equity:

''I'm not very proud of how it's turned out.''

He underwent surgery for brain cancer in April of this year, that's when he started talking about his legacy.

He told the NYT:

''This is not how I want to end,'' Mr. Forstmann said. ''It's a bend in the road for me. It's kind of arrogant to put it that way, but that's the way I want it to be.''...he said he did not want his obituary to read, ''He did this, he did that, and he died of brain cancer. No way.''

Actually, between the words ''no'' and ''way,'' an expletive punctuated his point. But then he remembered this is a family newspaper.


Not every Wall Street grew up with the same privileges as Forstmann

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