Investor Spotlight: How Silver Lake’s ‘Four Amigos’ built a tech buyout behemoth
Dating back to when @SilverLake was still a gleam in its founders’ eyes, the buyout shop has been one of the hottest names in private equity. At first, the firm’s mission of LBOs involving tech companies was novel. But in retrospect, it’s become clear that Silver Lake was at the forefront of a whole new style of investing. By 2015, the firm was an established presence in the world of private equity. Yet Silver Lake raised its profile another level that year with its participation in a single deal: The $67 billion acquisition of @EMC by @Dell, a Silver Lake portfolio company, in what’s the largest add-on in history. In many ways, the move was representative of the firm’s ethos: Making big, bold bets on tech companies that have the potential to pay off many times over. Without a doubt, it’s a plan LPs respond to. Earlier this year, Silver Lake closed its latest vehicle on $15 billion, making it one of the largest tech funds ever raised. To those who are familiar with the firm, that fact comes as no surprise. Firm History In the beginning, there were billions. Mere months after its formation in 1999, Silver Lake had already gathered more than $2 billion in commitments for its debut buyout fund focused on the tech industry, including reported pledges from high-profile investors like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, GM and CalPERS. How did the firm do it? The impressive pedigrees of its four co-founders played a big role. Known as “the four amigos,” the quartet of Jim Davidson, Glenn Hutchins, Roger McNamee and Dave Roux combined to form one of the most unique founding teams in recent private equity history. Davidson was a former investment bank managing director. Hutchins was a buyout expert from Blackstone. McNamee was a seasoned VC (not to mention a touring musician), and Roux was a one-time executive at Oracle. Together, they convinced investors to back a new model. At the time, tech LBOs were foreign for a number of reasons, including lofty valuations, a lack of earnings and volatile profits—all factors that traditionally dissuaded PE investment. It took a while for the new firm to ramp up activity, but before long Silver Lake was a proven player on the PE scene, with deal counts rising and a wave of imitators following in its wake: ￼ The firm raised its second and third flagship funds in 2004 and 2007, respectively. Also in 2007, it launched Silver Lake Sumeru, a new middle-market strategy that marked the beginning of the firm’s expansion beyond buyouts. And while Silver Lake’s four co-founders weren’t together for long, their ending was just as headline-grabbing as their beginning. In 2004, McNamee left to form a new firm along with a co-founder you may have heard of: U2 lead singer Bono. During the next three years, Silver Lake’s activity spiked to a new level, rising from four completed deals in 2004 to 19 in 2007, according to the PitchBook Platform. In the decade since, the firm has averaged 15 new investments per year. And those transactions have been backed by buyout funds that have quickly grown to gargantuan proportions: ￼ Today, the firm has no chief executive. Instead, all five of Silver Lake’s managing directors have the autonomy to pursue their own deals. Investment Strategy Silver Lake operates four distinct strategies. The biggest, Silver Lake Partners, pursues large-cap deals, while Silver Lake Sumeru conducts middle-market investments, Silver Lake Waterman specializes in growth-stage fundings and Silver Lake Kraftwerk invests in the energy and resource sectors. The commonality, though, is that nearly every business Silver Lake backs is a tech company. The California-based shop is active in several sub-sectors of the space, including semiconductors, cloud computing, IT infrastructure, mobile and ecommerce. Compared to other buyout firms that raise such massive funds, Silver Lake is conservative with the number of new investments it makes each year. But the deals the firm does choose to pursue tend to be larger. Since the beginning of 1999, for instance, Silver Lake has invested in 25 deals worth at least $1 billion, per PitchBook data.