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The Big Shakedown
on 26 June 2011
In 1989, KKR paid $25bn for RJR Nabisco in the biggest leveraged buyout deal in history. A leveraged buyout is a transaction where a private equity fund uses a little bit of its own money and prodigious amounts of borrowed money to buy up a company. In theory (at least) the private equity firm then proceeds to sweat the company - firing staff, squeezing savings from operations, selling any thing that moves in order to improve cashflow and profitability. In time the de-hulled company is resold at a huge profit. The lenders get their money back plus a bit of loose change for interest. The private equity firm makes a bundle. And as for the employees of the newly improved and dismembered company? God help them.
The battle for RJR is retold here with effervescence and dazzle. Barbarians is a telling story of hubris and greed and one out of which a lot can be learned the most important being: one ought to lose all automatic respect for financial titans. From the teflon-coated aggrandizing CEO of RJR (Ross Johnson) to the I-gotta-be-in-this-deal-even-if-it-makes-no-sense Mr Kravis of KKR to the banks who creamed off hundreds of millions you gotta hand it to these guys, they really knew how to shake down a great American company.