Monday, October 5, 2009

How Private Equity Can Win While Their Companies Lose

Private equity firms, former executives and Investment Banks profited as the Simmons Bedding Company fell into bankruptcy, devastating its bondholders and employees.

Presidents have slumbered on its mattresses aboard Air Force One. Dignitaries have slept on them in the Lincoln Bedroom. Its advertisements have featured Henry Ford and H. G. Wells. Eleanor Roosevelt extolled the virtues of the Simmons Beautyrest mattress, and the brand was immortalized on Broadway in Cole Porter’s song “Anything Goes.”

Its recent history has been notable, too, but for a different reason.

Simmons says it will soon file for bankruptcy protection, as part of an agreement by its current owners to sell the company — the seventh time it has been sold in a little more than two decades — all after being owned for short periods by a parade of different investment groups, known as private equity firms, which try to buy undervalued companies, mostly with borrowed money.

Thomas H. Lee Partners of Boston has not only escaped unscathed, it made a profit. THL bought Simmons in 2003, pocketed around $77 million in profit, collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the company in the form of special dividends. It also paid itself millions more in fees, first for buying the company, then for helping run it. Last year, the firm even gave itself a small raise.

Prior to this, investment banks also cashed in. A succession of private equity buyers came and went. Merrill Lynch Capital Partners bought Simmons in 1991 for $32 million for a 60 percent stake in the company and the assumption of its debt. Merrill sold it to Investcorp, an investment group based in Bahrain, for $265 million in 1996. Two years later, Investcorp sold the company to Fenway Partners for $513 million. Go to Full NYT article.

MORE to SEEA Video look at how private equity dealmakers can win while their companies, like Simmons Bedding, lose.

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