Carlyle sounds out Wall Street bankers over chief executive role

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Carlyle Group has sounded out two senior Wall Street bankers about becoming its next chief executive as the private equity group tries to conclude a months-long process to find a new leader after the abrupt departure of Kewsong Lee last year.

The Washington-based group has in recent months held discussions with Citigroup chief financial officer Mark Mason and outgoing Morgan Stanley chief operating officer Jonathan Pruzan, said multiple people briefed on the matter.

Mason, a highly regarded veteran at Citigroup, has helped oversee a trimming down of its sprawling global footprint since being named chief financial officer in February 2019.

If Mason were to lead Carlyle, he would become one of the most senior black leaders on Wall Street, helming one of the world’s largest and most established private equity groups with nearly $400bn in assets under management.

Pruzan is set to leave Morgan Stanley at the end of this month to pursue other opportunities and has also been in talks over the role, two of the people said.

Once considered a candidate to lead Morgan Stanley, Pruzan has been actively searching for leadership roles in the private equity industry, said two people with knowledge of the matter.

It is unclear whether other candidates are still in the frame. The Financial Times previously reported that internal candidates include Mark Jenkins, head of Carlyle’s credit business, and Peter Clare, a veteran dealmaker who chairs its private equity business.

Sandra Horbach, a top dealmaker at Carlyle, is not pursuing the job because she wanted to remain in her role leading the group’s global buyout operations, said people familiar with the matter.

Adena Friedman, the former chief financial officer of Carlyle, was an early candidate to lead the group. Friedman, who has been chief executive of stock exchange Nasdaq since 2017, was given the additional title of chair last month.

“We don’t comment on rumours and speculation, particularly with regard to any individual name,” Carlyle said.

Citi declined to comment while Pruzan did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

Carlyle has struggled to find a long-term successor to lead the group after the retirement of its billionaire founders David Rubenstein, William Conway and Daniel D’Aniello.

The trio began executing a succession plan in 2017, when they named Lee and Glenn Youngkin as co-chief executives. Youngkin left in 2020 to pursue his political ambitions and was elected governor of Virginia last year, leaving Lee as the group’s sole chief executive.

The group has been without a permanent CEO since the abrupt exit in August of Lee after he lost a power struggle with the co-founders, who sit on the board and hold significant voting power.

The 73-year-old Conway has been interim CEO since Lee’s departure. Carlyle is working to conclude the search in the “near future”, Conway told employees in a late December note to employees obtained by the FT.

Carlyle’s founders are looking for a leader who will have a more co-operative relationship with them than Lee, who had sought autonomy in setting the firm’s strategy.

In a letter to employees obtained by the FT, Conway said Carlyle was looking at candidates with a “demonstrated record of leading high-performing global companies”.

The search comes at a fraught moment for Carlyle as its shares have stagnated in recent years and it grew at a slower rate than competitors. Last year, the group asked investors for more time to raise its latest flagship buyout fund.

However, the group’s low share price may appeal to some candidates who see an opportunity to earn a large windfall by turning the group round.

Carlyle has reported rising profits and base management fees over the past year, bolstered by acquisitions and strong fund performance. Its $22bn portfolio of natural resources investments rose more than 40 per cent in the year to the end of September 2022, bolstered by surging oil prices.

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