George Roberts: On fame and friendship

'The last time we fought was when we were about eight years old – and that was over a bicycle,' says KKR co-founder George Roberts of cousin and fellow co-founder Henry Kravis.

KKR’s take-private of RJR Nabisco in 1988 was memorialised in the best-selling business book (and later film), Barbarians at the Gate. The title of the book is perhaps something KKR’s founders would have changed if they could, for it implies that the firm and the industry approach deals in a way that is at odds with its core values emphasising partnership.

But title aside, the book and film catapulted George Roberts and Henry Kravis onto Main Street, making them household names. Ask Roberts what it’s been like to be one-half of the most famous duo in private equity history, and to have built up an extraordinary franchise over the years, and the first thing he emphasises is they were originally a trio, giving credit to fellow co-founder Jerome Kohlberg who retired from KKR in 1987.

Having gained such fame and notoriety must have impacted their day-to-day lives and relationships, it’s suggested. But Roberts quickly refutes the implication. “It has had no impact on anything, including on my relationship with Henry,” Roberts says. “I get up and go to work every day and do the best I can do. I’ve never looked at it any other way.”

Henry, Roberts says of his cousin, is the hardest-working person he knows. “We have total trust. We look out for one another. We don’t let anything get in the way of that. The last time we fought was when we were about eight years old – and that was over a bicycle.”