Henry Kravis

Kravis: KKR is not Blackstone

February 28, 2013: 4:13 AM ET
Henry Kravis and George Roberts

Henry Kravis and George Roberts

A private equity firm by any other name..

FORTUNE -- Henry Kravis wants institutional investors to know he runs a private equity firm. That may sound obvious to those with even a fleeting knowledge of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), which Kravis co-founded 37 years ago, but it really is a subtle dig at rival The Blackstone Group (BX).

Speaking this morning at the SuperReturn International conference in Berlin, Kravis said the following when asked about KKR's multiple business lines: "Our core business has been, and will continue to be, private equity.... The success or failure of the assets that we own will make or break our returns."

This is in contrast to recent comments from Blackstone Group president Tony James, when someone referred to Blackstone as a "private equity firm." He replied that private equity now comprises just a minority of Blackstone's assets under management and that, if forced to pick a category, Blackstone now would be better described as "a real estate firm."

Why does this matter? Because Kravis was in Berlin to raise money for KKR's new flagship private equity fund, which he said would remain in market for the rest of 2013. Many institutional investors are wary of firms with too many different areas of focus, believing that divided focus leads to sub-optimal returns. After all, a diversified alternative investment firm like Blackstone could offset potential private equity losses by profits in other areas.

Kravis also said that if you're going to be successful in today's private equity industry, firms need to be able to be "solutions providers" rather than pure buyout artists:

"It used to be that you'd walk into a company to meet with the CEO. After the introduction you'd ask if the company was for sale. If the CEO says 'I have no interest in selling my company,' what did you do after that? It was the end of the conversation. Now we can talk about all sorts of things, because we can get involved in other areas of the capital structure. We still like to be majority shareholders, but we also can be minority investors, or debt investors, or something else that can provide a solution that helps the company grow."

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