Monday, January 23, 2012

Private Equity Personality

Sunday January 22, David Rubinstein, the head of Carlyle Group was on Fareed Zakaria’s show Global Public Square on CNN. The Carlyle Group is one of the biggest private equity firms in the world.

The subject was private equity, in the context of the recent flogging of Mitt Romney over his salad days at Bain Capital. Whether you love or hate private equity – understand it or think it’s a mystery – Mr. Rubinstein presented a very cogent argument for why private equity makes sense as a business and even helps middle class people who co-invest alongside Mr. Rubinstein and his partners. Middle class people like teachers, policeman, and other union members can and do co-invest in private equity funds through their own pension funds. They seek the same superior returns that the Carlyle Group is seeking.

But this isn’t a post about private equity. It’s about connecting with people. Mitt Romney can’t do it. David Rubinstein can – but he didn’t – at least not on this show.

Mr. Rubinstein presented a collection of facts that assembled his argument for private equity as a good thing. It was rational, logical and well spoken but in my view it didn’t connect with his audience as well as it could have. It would have been great for a business school audience but that wasn’t who he was speaking to – he was speaking to the world.

He could have connected much better if he had woven his private equity story around his dad, a postal service worker in Baltimore who never made over $8,000 a year. He could have said that his father, a middle class worker, might have been one of his unseen partners at the Carlyle Group through a public worker pension fund. He mentioned his dad toward the end of the interview but too late to help much.

I’ve never met David Rubinstein but he’s a terrific talker. Go on You Tube and watch him talk to business school students at University of Maryland last year. He has a quick wit, great stories and owns his stage. He connects with people, regaling them with family stories about growing up middle class in Baltimore, the only child of two parents who never graduated high school. Humble roots for #139 on the Forbes 400 list.

He could have done that on CNN with Fareed and everyday people might have connected with his point and his person. Instead he came off a bit stiff and a touch Romney-like, delivering facts without feelings. He left his personality home.

Bottom line – when talking to real people about real things, be the real you.

Lead with Dad!

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