Remembering Warren Hellman, who led Levi’s buyout in 1985

Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh rings the opening bell on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company’s IPO in New York, U.S., March 21, 2019.

Levi’s “certainly put Hellman & Friedman on the map,” said Marco “Mick” Hellman, Warren’s son, in an interview this week after the IPO. Mick, who has three sisters, was a managing director at Hellman & Friedman from 1987 until 2001, and since 2008 has run his own firm, HMI Capital. “They still would’ve been successful, but the firm would have been in a different place if not for that deal.”

Hellman got an advisory fee of $7 million for the deal, according to Fortune, and a 2.2 percent stake in Levi’s. At the time of the IPO this week, that stake — held in a family trust called MTB Illiquid — amounted to 1.4 percent, according to the prospectus, though individual family members hold some additional shares. MTB sold about $18 million worth of shares in the IPO and still holds a stake worth $93 million.

Mick said his dad was “very loyal” to the brand and remembers him wearing Levi’s clothes all the time, though he said family members had to buy merchandise just like anyone else.

“It was definitely a labor of love for Warren,” said Mick, in describing Warren’s time as an investor and his 23 years as a board member. “He was a guy who never gave up on stuff, which was a wonderful attribute. if he was alive today he would still be working on it.”

Hellman was a pioneer in the private equity market, and had significant wins throughout his career. In 2005, his firm helped take DoubleClick private in a $1.1 billion purchase, before selling the advertising-technology company to Google two years later for $3.1 billion. Other big deals included an investment in the Nasdaq Stock Market, a recapitalization of Young and Rubicam, and a big stake in Formula One Holdings.

Hellman & Friedman has become an even bigger player in tech private equity of late, joining Blackstone earlier this year in the $11 billion buyout of Ultimate Software.

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