Apollo’s New Guy Is a Legend in Banking, a Novice in Buyouts

  • Gary Parr’s ‘natural evolution’ takes him to private equity
  • Contact list expected to help Apollo expand in Europe, Asia

Gary Parr had deals going in three parts of the world when he dropped the mic on a 30-year career as a banker.

Parr, 59, has been a player in just about every financial story worth bold headlines in recent years. Now he’s left Lazard Ltd. for Apollo Global Management LLC, to work with co-founders Leon Black, Marc Rowan and Josh Harris. Parr starts today with a broad mandate as a senior managing director.

Gary Parr

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

While the career change drew skepticism from some former colleagues who wonder how much he knows about things like accumulating real estate and investing in debt, Davide Serra called the switch a “natural evolution” for the consummate banker. “It’s a step up,” said Serra, who worked at Morgan Stanley at the same time as Parr and went on to create hedge fund Algebris Investments.

Parr has an Apollo office, 43 stories above Manhattan’s 59th Street, that has similar sweeping views of Central Park that he had at Lazard. The former chairman of the New York Philharmonic said he’ll decorate the walls with musical scores, brought with him from Lazard, marked by Leonard Bernstein and Bruno Walter.

No Stranger

“Gary’s sound judgment, deep expertise and extensive network of relationships throughout the financial services industry will prove invaluable as Apollo continues to broaden and expand its business,” Harris said. 

Parr is no stranger to Apollo. He got to know Black more than a decade ago when he worked for the late dealmaker Bruce Wasserstein. Parr advised Apollo on its 2011 initial public offering, helping Lazard earn $1.5 million in fees, and recently assisted Apollo sell shares in insurer Athene Holding Ltd. Athene is among Apollo’s largest holdings, generating as much as one-fourth of Apollo’s asset management fees in recent years.

“Am I here to do investing? No. There are plenty of people here who know how to invest,” Parr said in an interview in his new office. “I’m thinking strategically about where the firm should build.”

The banking business was lucrative for Parr. He lives in what colleagues have called a castle, in Tuxedo Park, New York, about 45 miles northwest of New York City. He also owns a $6.8 million home in Palm Beach, Florida, and has a third residence, on Park Avenue in Manhattan.

For all the deals Parr brought to Bermuda-based Lazard, not everyone was sad to see him go, according to people there. His compensation, in an industry not as robust as it has been in the past, and earned from transactions he’d steered on the side, irked some of his co-workers.

Parr brings to Apollo a long list of contacts from banking. He’ll use it to help expand Apollo’s real estate and credit divisions, especially in Europe, where big lenders are scaling back. It’s a business Parr knows well -- he’s worked with lenders in Italy, Spain and Ireland. And he’ll forge partnerships in Asia, where Apollo has little presence.

Parr “will work with the leadership team in areas such as strategic and financial matters, capital markets for the firm, where Gary has significant expertise, and leverage his extensive network of financial institution relationships,” said an Apollo spokesman.

Job Switch

Apollo has grown its assets under management more than seven-fold in the past decade to $189 billion at the end of September, with $135 billion allocated to credit, according to investor presentations.

At the time of his job switch, Parr was part of a team advising the world’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, which was on the brink of a bailout from the Italian government. He was helping Genworth Financial Inc. on its $2.7 billion agreement to sell to Hong Kong-based China Oceanwide Holdings Group Inc., and was also advising Allstate Corp. on its largest-ever takeover.

Former Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sandy Weill said Parr earned his respect during 1993 negotiations between Weill’s Primerica Inc. and Travelers Corp., which Parr was advising. The pair took a walk at Weill’s Greenwich, Connecticut, home, and Parr offered his opinion on the deal that at the time would create the largest diversified U.S. financial firm.

Advised Geico

“He got me to a place where I wasn’t thinking of going at the beginning,” Weill said in an interview. “Nobody got 100 percent of what they wanted, but everyone ended up with something. And to this day, Travelers has flourished.”

Parr advised Geico Corp. on its 1995 agreement to sell stock to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for a higher price than Buffett initially offered. In 2007, Parr helped Mellon Financial merge with Bank of New York. During the 2008 financial crisis, Parr worked on the sale of Bear Stearns Cos. to JPMorgan Chase & Co., counseled Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. on its sale of assets, and assisted Morgan Stanley’s sale of a stake to Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. Later, he helped sell trading operations once overseen by fraudster Bernie Madoff.

“He got to the top tier,” Joseph Perella said in an interview. Perella hired Parr for his first investment banking job, at First Boston Corp., in 1983.

Parr moved with Perella in 1989 to help build Wasserstein Perella, then left again in 1993 for Morgan Stanley after Perella went there. In 2003, Parr rejoined Wasserstein in 2003 at Lazard.

Home at Lazard

Rodgin Cohen, the dean of Wall Street lawyers at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, called Parr a legendary banker. “A lot of investment bankers are thought of very well by their clients,” he said, “but there’s a very small number who inspire the highest degree of trust, and Gary is one of those.”

Lazard passed up Parr for the CEO job in 2009 after Wasserstein’s death, naming Kenneth Jacobs to the role instead. When asked if he saw himself as a possible Apollo chief, Parr said no.

Parr’s colleagues said they didn’t see in him a burning desire to head a company. On many deals, he preferred to work alone, often forming ventures on the side, they said. One such transaction was made with buyout-firm founder Christopher Flowers. His firm and Parr, with his own funds, helped acquire brokerage Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller. It was eventually sold to Macquarie Group Ltd. in 2009 for $147 million. Parr also invested in real estate ventures and reinsurer Forethought Financial, which Lazard helped sell to a rival.

Asked what his ambitions are, Parr recalled seeing a newspaper years ago with a headline that read, “George Soros: Billionaire Philanthropist.”

“I actually said, ‘OK, I want to be one of those,’” Parr said. He added with a smile, “I’m a philanthropist. I will not be a billionaire.”

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