RJR Nabisco and The Barbarians At The Gate
Leveraged buyouts in the 1980s including Perelman's takeover of Revlon came to epitomize the "ruthless capitalism" and "greed" popularly seen to be pervading Wall Street at the time. One of the final major buyouts of the 1980s proved to be its most ambitious and marked both a high-water mark and a sign of the beginning of the end of the boom that had begun nearly a decade earlier. In 1989, KKR closed on a $31.1 billion dollar takeover of RJR Nabisco. It was, at that time and for over 17 years, the largest leverage buyout in history. The event was chronicled in the book, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, and later made into a television movie starring James Garner.
F. Ross Johnson was the President and CEO of RJR Nabisco at the time of the leveraged buyout and Henry Kravis was a general partner at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. The leveraged buyout was in the amount of $25 billion (plus assumed debt), and the battle for control took place between October and November 1988. KKR would eventually prevail in acquiring RJR Nabisco at $109 per share marking a dramatic increase from the original announcement that Shearson Lehman Hutton would take RJR Nabisco private at $75 per share. A fierce series of negotiations and horse-trading ensued which pitted KKR against Shearson Lehman Hutton and later Forstmann Little & Co. Many of the major banking players of the day, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Salomon Brothers, and Merrill Lynch were actively involved in advising and financing the parties.
After Shearson Lehman's original bid, KKR quickly introduced a tender offer to obtain RJR Nabisco for $90 per share—a price that enabled it to proceed without the approval of RJR Nabisco's management. RJR's management team, working with Shearson Lehman and Salomon Brothers, submitted a bid of $112, a figure they felt certain would enable them to outflank any response by Kravis's team. KKR's final bid of $109, while a lower dollar figure, was ultimately accepted by the board of directors of RJR Nabisco. KKR's offer was guaranteed, whereas the management offer (backed by Shearson Lehman and Salomon) lacked a "reset", meaning that the final share price might have been lower than their stated $112 per share. Additionally, many in RJR's board of directors had grown concerned at recent disclosures of Ross Johnson' unprecedented golden parachute deal. TIME magazine featured Ross Johnson on the cover of their December 1988 issue along with the headline, "A Game of Greed: This man could pocket $100 million from the largest corporate takeover in history. Has the buyout craze gone too far?". KKR's offer was welcomed by the board, and, to some observers, it appeared that their elevation of the reset issue as a deal-breaker in KKR's favor was little more than an excuse to reject Ross Johnson's higher payout of $112 per share. F. Ross Johnson received $53 million from the buyout.
At $31.1 billion of transaction value, RJR Nabisco was by far the largest leveraged buyouts in history. In 2006 and 2007, a number of leveraged buyout transactions were completed that for the first time surpassed the RJR Nabisco leveraged buyout in terms of nominal purchase price. However, adjusted for inflation, none of the leveraged buyouts of the 2006–2007 period would surpass RJR Nabisco. Unfortunately for KKR, size would not equate with success as the high purchase price and debt load would burden the performance of the investment. It had to pump additional equity into the company a year after the buyout closed and years later, when it sold the last of its investment, it had chalked up a $700 million loss.
Interestingly, two years earlier, in 1987, Jerome Kohlberg, Jr. resigned from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. over differences in strategy. Kohlberg did not favor the larger buyouts (including Beatrice Companies (1985) and Safeway (1986) and would later likely have included the 1989 takeover of RJR Nabisco), highly leveraged transactions or hostile takeovers being pursued increasingly by KKR. The split would ultimately prove acrimonious as Kohlberg sued Kravis and Roberts for what he alleged were improper business tactics. The case was later settled out of court. Instead, Kohlberg chose to return to his roots, acquiring smaller, middle-market companies and in 1987, he would found a new private equity firm Kohlberg & Company along with his son James A. Kohlberg, at the time a KKR executive. Jerome Kohlberg would continue investing successfully for another seven years before retiring from Kohlberg & Company in 1994 and turning his firm over to his son.
As the market reached its peak in 1988 and 1989, new private equity firms were founded which would emerge as major investors in the years to follow, including: ABRY Partners, Coller Capital, Landmark Partners, Leonard Green & Partners and Providence Equity Partners.
Other articles related to "rjr nabisco and the barbarians at the gate, rjr nabisco, barbarians at the gate":
... In 1989, KKR closed on a $31.1 billion dollar takeover of RJR Nabisco ... The event was chronicled in the book, Barbarians at the Gate The Fall of RJR Nabisco, and later made into a television movie starring James Garner ... Ross Johnson was the President and CEO of RJR Nabisco at the time of the leveraged buyout and Henry Kravis was a general partner at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts ...
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