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Masters of This Universe

The largest private equity firms are bulking up their war chests and readying themselves to make deals

Blackstone Group

Chairman: Stephen Schwarzman; Assets: $91 billion

Strengths: The diversified financial firm invests in companies, real estate, mortgages, and debt. Blackstone made $410 million last year advising companies on mergers, acquisitions, and restructurings.

Weaknesses: Shares are down 35% since the company's 2007 IPO. One holding, Hilton Hotels, has been battered by a drop in tourism.

Carlyle Group

Founders: David Rubenstein, Daniel D'Aniello, William Conway Jr.; Assets: $85.5 billion

Strengths: Carlyle uses its political clout to land deals. Former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker III are among those who have worked for the firm.

Weaknesses: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating whether Carlyle influenced pension fund managers to snag more business.

Bain Capital

Founders: Mitt Romney and seven partners; Assets: $60 billion

Strengths: Turnaround artists known for their strong management skills, the firm bought a 93% stake in Domino's Pizza in 1998 and sold it to the public six years later, returning 400% to investors.

Weaknesses: Bain's portfolio is filled with troubled retailers, including craft chain Michaels and Guitar Center.

Kohlberg, Kravis, & Roberts

Founders: Henry Kravis & George Roberts; Assets: $55 billion

Strengths: The firm—whose 1989 takeover of RJR Nabisco inspired the book Barbarians at the Gate—is poised to capitalize on infrastructure spending. It also is eyeing a South Korean brewer.

Weaknesses: One KKR unit's shares plummeted after suffering a $40 million loss on bad mortgage investments.


Chairman: David Bonderman; Assets: $50 billion

Strengths: A specialist in reviving floundering businesses, TPG could scoop up assets in Chapter 11. The firm is skilled at collecting fees from its portfolio companies up front.

Weaknesses: TPG lost $1.7 billion on its investment in Washington Mutual, which was seized by regulators and sold to JPMorgan Chase.

Apollo Management

Chairman: Leon Black; Assets: $45.1 billion

Strengths: With hundreds of names in its portfolio, Apollo can weather the downturn. One holding, big-box grocery store Smart & Final, is surging as consumers look for discounts.

Weaknesses: Apollo has plenty of clunkers among its companies, including Harrah's and Realogy.

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