In the same year The New York Observer was getting going, a slightly bigger deal was in the works. The management of RJR Nabisco was trying to take the cigarette maker private and was offering a stunning fortune to do so. Henry Kravis offered more. Kravis won, and a legend was born.
With mentor Jerome Kohlberg and cousin George Roberts, Mr. Kravis was a pioneer of “bootstrap capitalism,” using a company’s assets and debt capacity to acquire it with little equity. KKR’s leveraged buyouts of Beatrice, Kraft and other giant corporations defined the restructuring of American consumers’ most familiar brand names: Tropicana, Samsonite, Safeway, Salem, Winston, Oreo, Ritz, Snickers, MacMillan, Fleet Bank and many others.
As if remaking how M&A are transacted isn’t enough, Mr. Kravis is a leading philanthropist as well as an astute collector of art. Along with his wife, Marie-Josée, he has been a tremendous supporter of New York institutions. He is a board member and a multimillion-dollar contributor to Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia Graduate School of Business. He also started the nonprofit New York City Investment Fund and is on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York City Ballet.