David Rubenstein, co-founder of US buyout firm The Carlyle Group, was booed during his appearance at the Wharton Private Equity Conference.
His speech at the business school's annual conference was crashed by the SEIU union within minutes of his going on stage.
The protesters had apparently registered at the conference as they were wearing name badges and had settled in among seated delegates.
The union has already invaded several public appearances by the Carlyle executive, in order to protest its $6.3 billion (€4.3 billion) acquisition of US nursing home Manor Care, which closed in December.
Once Rubenstein began his keynote address, roughly 20 to 30 protesters began chanting “Patients Before Profits” and unfurled banners from the balconies including one that read: “Carlyle – fix Manor Care now”.
Some protesters stood shouting on the balcony of the conference hall, while others went through the crowd handing out fliers. Rubenstein stood on the stage waiting for the noise to subside.
The protesters' flier read: “Carlyle billionaire David Rubenstein talks about the winds of change in our economy but what is he really blowing? Super rich chief executives like David Rubenstein are blowing off our communities in their relentless drive to get even richer.”
As well as the Manor Care deal, the protesters’ flier criticised Carlyle’s sewage deal Synagro and the $1.3 billion sale of a 7.5 percent stake in Carlyle's holding company to Abu Dhabi sovereign fund Mubadala.
A woman with a megaphone, who said she had worked at Manor Care for several years, approached Rubenstein shouting questions. She also shouted at fellow protesters on the balcony level to “shut up” during her exchange with the Carlyle executive.
She asked Rubenstein: “How are you going to fix Manor Care?”
He cited Carlyle’s business plan and said Manor Care is the largest and one of the best healthcare chains in the nation “because of people like you and others”. Rubenstein said his firm hopes to improve the business further.
“We don’t want to hear 'I hope', we want to hear 'I will',” she said. In reply to Rubenstein’s assertion that there are “no guarantees in life”, she began to argue: “When you are old…” To laughter, Rubenstein cut her off, saying he was already old.
Conference organisers broke up the meeting, ejected protesters and collected the fliers they'd passed out.
When Rubenstein returned to the stage after 15 minutes he received a standing ovation for a minute from the entire hall. When the applause subsided, Rubenstein quipped: “How many people still want a career in private equity?”
Rubenstein told students considering a career in the asset class: “I think you will find it emotionally, physically and financially rewarding. “ He even offered to help with the latter, offering a $250,000 prize to any student that gives him a purely original idea leading to a closed deal.
“So, please go back to your room later and think about this,” he said.
Additional reporting by Amanda Janis.