Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Industry Thoughts | Turning the Other Cheek

Dan Primack of Fortune mentioned in a tweet a while back about a common tactic private equity executives use on journalists, service providers, and the curious public: "No comment." I wasn't sure what that was in regards to, but Dan was more specific in today's Term Sheet.

Trimaran Capital Partners, a firm with $1.6B under management, invests $25 to $100 million of equity in transactions ranging in value from under $100 million to $1 billion. They acquired Charlie Brown's from Castle Harlan in 2005, and out of nowhere, they laid off 2,000 employees. While I understand that there's an explanation for this, the fact that Trimaran's answer for Dan was "no comment" and that, on top of that answer, "someone else might choose to discuss the matter at a later date," is disturbing.

This situation reminded me of another food-related spat between a portfolio company and a private equity firm: Stella D'Oro. The firm sold the company to Lance Inc., who was aiming to close the Bronx plant and move operations to Ashland, Ohio. The union backing the workers fought back, but lost heavily and everyone lost their jobs. Only recently were the workers able to get some sort of success; Crain's reported that workers will get some money back in back pay and benefits. 

When it's highly confidential information, sure, I understand that you cannot share details. However, even a general answer is helpful, as in Dan's words, "private equity firms [...] also have a responsibility to company employees." It's a trust the firm violated.

Oh, and if you're reading this, Dan, according to Pitchbook, Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse has been on the block since July 2010 (Charlie Brown's hired Raymond James to seek strategic alternatives).

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