Kevin Albert to join Elevation Partners

The longtime head of Merrill Lynch’s dominant private equity placement business is stepping down next month to become a partner at the upstart media investment group led by Silver Lake’s Roger McNamee and including rock star Bono.

Kevin Albert, head of Merrill Lynch’s private equity placement business for 12 years, will next month join Elevation Partners, a current placement client of Merrill Lynch’s that is in the midst of raising a fund with a target of $1.5 billion (€1.15 billion).

Albert joined Merrill’s then-nascent private equity fund group in 1990. He became head of the group in 1993 when Phil Pool left to form a rival placement business for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (now CSFB).

At Elevation Partners, based in Menlo Park, California, Albert will be a partner in charge of investor relations. Elevation Partners will soon hold a close on roughly $1.1 billion in capital commitments and plans on reaching its $1.5 billion cap shortly thereafter, according to reports and market sources.

Elevation Partners is the brainchild of Roger McNamee, a former partner of San Francisco technology buyout firm Silver Lake Partners, launched in 1999. Silver Lake tapped Merrill Lynch as a placement agent for its debut fund and the firm raised $2.2 billion in a matter of weeks, making it one of the most successful first-time private equity fundraisings ever.

The firm also includes as partners Marc Bodnick, another former Silver Lake partner; Fred Anderson, the former chief financial officer of Apple Computer; John Riccitiello, the former president and chief operating officer of video game corporation Electronic Arts; and Bret Pearlman, a former senior managing director of The Blackstone Group.

The firm also counts Bono, singer of the rock band U2, as a managing director. Bono is expected to lend industry expertise and connections to the firm’s investment strategy.

Elevation Partners will focus on acquiring media content, which is expected to see increased demand as new forms of distribution and technology proliferate.

A source familiar with the situation described Albert’s split with Merrill Lynch as amicable.

Last May, Loren Boston, the former global head of Citigroup Global Market’s private equity fund placement business, joined Merrill Lynch as managing director and head of private equity origination.

Under Albert’s stewardship, Merrill came to dominate the private equity placement business and served as a training ground for a significant number of placement agents working in the industry today. Placement firms including Benedetto Gartland, Jerome P. Greene & Associates, Probitas Partners, MVision, Citigroup, CSFB and Lazard Freres all include or were founded by former Merrill Lynch placement agents.

Turnover is endemic to the private equity placement business, but Albert’s group was hit especially hard when nine senior placement professionals left in early 2003 to join Lazard Freres. Rumors circulated following these departures that Albert was to retire from the private equity industry.

A former colleague of Albert’s described him as, “an intense guy – he’ll stay late and answer every phone call.”

Albert officially joins Elevation Partners February 1.