Theodore Forstmann, the billionaire financier who "helped pioneer leveraged buyouts" and built a fortune, died at age 71 yesterday morning. Forstmann, whose empire included the entertainment management company IMG and was a frequent tabloid name—thanks to relationships with Princess Diana, Elizabeth Hurley and, most recently Padma Lakshmi—had been diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year.
Forstmann grew up in a wealthy Greenwich, CT family, "as an heir to one of the nation’s biggest textile dynasties" and graduated from Yale, but his family's fortunes crumbled and he "was left to attend Columbia University ’s law school in 1962 on a $150 a month trust fund," according to the Post.
After working in a number of investment firms, he and his brother opened up their own firm: The NY Times' obituary notes, "Mr. Forstmann was among the first executives to use debt to acquire companies, fix them and then sell them for millions — and sometimes billions — of dollars in profit. Beginning in the late 1970s, he pooled money from wealthy investors and large pension funds to back his acquisitions while taking 20 percent of the profits, creating a business model that today is known as the private equity industry." Some of the companies he bought and sold included Dr. Pepper, General Instrument, Topps, and Gulfstream.
From the Wall Street Journal's obituary:
Buyouts surged in size in the late 1980s, and rivals completed huge deals using junk bonds—those rated below investment-grade—and riskier debt as currency. Mr. Forstmann lashed out, predicting the deals would end badly.
"It's funny money. It's wampum," he was quoted as saying in the 1990 book "Barbarians at the Gate," which chronicles the takeover fight for RJR Nabisco, a battle Mr. Forstmann's firm lost to rival Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. after declining to raise its acquisition bid.
He is credited with coining the famous phrase that gave the bestselling book its title. According to co-author John Helyar, Mr. Forstmann's RJR Nabisco bid would involve taking on those who would fund their bids with junk bonds. The image formed in his mind.
"The junk bond hordes are at the city gates ...This is where we could stand at the bridge and push the barbarians back. Wouldn't that be phenomenal?"
Forstmann had been more interested in giving away his wealth in recent years. He signed the Giving Pledge, saying, "For many years I’ve been quietly doing my own version of 'the giving pledge' trying to help disadvantaged children around the world. I’ve always believed that you don’t really talk about giving; you just do it. However, Mayor Bloomberg convinced me that by lending my name to 'The Giving Pledge' it would help encourage others to participate and would result in helping many needy causes. I’ve tried to live by the motto 'you save one life and you save the world.' I hope that by joining 'The Giving Pledge' it will encourage others to do the same."