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Joe Bae, the man who led KKR’s Asia push

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


(FT by Henny Sender) - Joe Bae was given his big break at KKR in 2005 when Henry Kravis, a founder, decided to tap him to lead the private equity firm’s push into Hong Kong and the rest of Asia.

Though Mr Bae was in his early 30s, not yet a partner and had grown up in New Jersey, Mr Kravis gambled that the Korean-American could help KKR take on more established firms in the region including Carlyle, TPG and Warburg Pincus.

Mr Bae briefly considered working as a concert pianist before opting for financial services first at Goldman Sachs and then threw himself into the job and the local cultural scene, winning people over with his unpretentious enthusiasm.

His wife, Janice Lee, the author whom he met when both were undergraduates at Harvard University, had grown up in Hong Kong and they soon were singing karaoke at weddings and dancing “Gangnam Style”.

Today, KKR is considered the most successful international investment firm in Asia, having just closed on a record $9.3bn fund there. Some of the transactions Mr Bae worked on personally, including a brewery deal in South Korea and Panasonic Health in Japan, are among the firm’s most profitable anywhere.

Now Mr Bae has been elevated to co-chief operating officer, with specific responsibility for KKR’s private equity globally. The position, which sets him up as a likely successor to Mr Kravis and George Roberts, means that he retains his Asia role while taking over responsibility for North America from Alex Navab, his long-term partner who plans to retire.

 

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