Carlyle Group CEO Kewsong Lee abruptly resigns, surprising company executives

Carlyle Group Inc. said Chief Executive Officer Kewsong Lee has stepped down, a step back from the private equity giant’s efforts to navigate the generational transition during turbulent market times.

Co-founder Bill Conway, the current non-executive co-chair, will immediately serve as interim CEO during the search for a permanent replacement, the company said in a statement late Sunday.

Lee became sole boss in September 2020 after a power controversy led to co-CEO Glenn Youngkin leaving. Lee’s departure came suddenly and was a surprise to many executives. With a five-year employment contract set to expire at the end of the year, Lee and management have clashed over his contract in recent discussions, a person familiar with the matter said.

Both parties have agreed to begin the search for a new CEO to lead Carlyle in the next phase of growth, the company said.

Lee tried to diversify sales, make profits less constrained by the stock market boom and bust cycles, and lift stock prices. The volatile market makes it difficult for acquiring companies to take the companies public or sell them at high prices.

In his aggressive efforts to remake the company, Lee – a former Warburg Pincus teller who joined Carlyle in 2013 – made changes that sometimes put him at odds with old guard. He tries to connect competing factions and restructure teams to make traders work more closely together. He also brought on new faces on the staff and tried to move the Washington-based company’s center of power to New York.

Shares of Carlyle are down 31% this year, trailing rivals including Slat Inc. and Apollo Global Management Inc.

Carlyle is up 34% Distributable income in the second quarter, as it grew its credit business and boosted fee flow. However, Lee said at the time the industry was facing an uncertain environment as the Federal Reserve moved to raise interest rates and tackle inflation. Valuations will need to reset before trading activity takes place across the industry, he said.

Carlyle said a newly formed search committee would help find a permanent successor. The company also set up a CEO office to support Conway and make the “seamless transition” once a replacement is identified.

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