The 25 Largest Private Equity Firms Since 2015
Frequent the business section of your favorite newspaper long enough, and you’ll see mentions of private equity (PE).
Maybe it’s because a struggling company got bought out and taken private, just as Toys “R” Us did in 2005 for $6.6 billion.
Otherwise, it’s likely a mention of a major investment (or payout) that a PE firm scored through venture or growth capital. For example, after Airbnb had to postpone its original plans for a 2020 initial public offering (IPO) in light of the pandemic, the company raised more than $1 billion in PE funding to plan for a new listing later this year.
Yet many people don’t fully understand the size and scope of private equity. To demonstrate the impact of PE, we break down the funds raised by the top 25 firms over the last five years.
How Private Equity Firms Operate
First, we need to differentiate between private equity and other forms of investment.
A PE firm makes investments and provides financial backing to startups and non-public companies (or public companies that are being taken private).
Each firm raises a PE fund by pooling capital from investors, which it then uses to carry out transactions such as leveraged buyouts, venture and growth capital, distressed investments, and mezzanine capital.
Unlike other investment firms such as hedge funds, private equity firms take a direct role in managing their assets. In order to maximize value, that can mean asset stripping, lay-offs, and other significant restructuring.
Traditionally, PE investments are held on a longer-term basis, with the goal of maximizing the target company’s value through an IPO, merger, recapitalization, or sale.
The List: The Most PE Funds Raised in Five Years
So which names should you know in private equity?
Here are the largest 25 private equity firms by their five-year PE fundraising total over the last five years, with data on funds and investments from respective firms and Private Equity International.
They include well-known private equity houses like The Blackstone Group and KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts), as well as investment managers with private equity divisions like BlackRock.
|Rank||Private Equity Firm||5-Year Funds Raised ($B)||Notable Current Investments|
|1||The Blackstone Group||95.95||Refinitiv, Merlin Entertainments|
|2||The Carlyle Group||61.72||ZoomInfo, PPD|
|3||Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.||54.76||Axel Springer SE, Epic Games|
|4||TPG Capital||38.68||Cirque du Soleil, Cushman & Wakefield|
|5||Warburg Pincus||37.59||Airtel, Sundyne|
|6||Neuberger Berman||36.51||Marquee Brands, Telxius|
|7||CVC Capital Partners||35.88||Petco, Premiership Rugby|
|8||EQT Partners||34.46||Dunlop Protective Footwear, SUSE|
|9||Advent International||33.49||Cobham, Serta Simmons Bedding,|
|10||Vista Equity Partners||32.1||Finastra, Mindbody|
|11||Leonard Green & Partners||26.31||Lucky Brand, Signet Jewelers|
|12||Cinven||26.15||Kurt Geiger, Hotelbeds|
|13||Bain Capital||25.74||Virgin Voyages, Canada Goose|
|14||Apollo Global Management||25.42||ADT, Chuck E Cheese's|
|15||Thoma Bravo||25.29||Dynatrace, McAfee|
|16||Insight Partners||22.74||Monday.com, HelloFresh|
|17||BlackRock||22.46||Authentic Brands Group, Qumulo|
|18||General Atlantic||22.42||Airbnb, Vox Media|
|19||Permira||22.21||Dr. Martens, Informatica|
|20||Brookfield Asset Management||21.69||Multiplex, Westinghouse Electric|
|21||EnCap Investments||21.33||Pegasus Resources, Lotus Midstream|
|22||Francisco Partners||19.13||Verifone, GoodRx|
|23||Platinum Equity||18.00||Livingston International, Palace Sports & Entertainment|
|24||Hillhouse Capital Group||17.89||Miniso, Belle International|
|25||Partners Group||17.87||Civica, KinderCare Education|
Most of the world’s top PE firms, including TPG Capital (which invested in Ducati Motorcycles, J. Crew, and Del Monte Foods) and Advent International (an early investor in Lululemon Athletica) are headquartered in the U.S.
In fact, of the largest 25 private equity firms in the last five years, just four are headquartered in Europe (CVC, EQT, Cinven, and Permira) and one in Asia (Hillhouse).
Another name that might be recognizable is Bain Capital, which was co-founded by Utah Senator and former Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney and found success with investments in AMC Theatres, Domino’s Pizza, and iHeartMedia.
Famous Private Equity Investments
One of the most surprising things investors discover about private equity is how many large organizations have been funded through the PE world.
More well-known investments include KKR’s $31.1 billion takeover of food and tobacco conglomerate RJR Nabisco in 1989, and Blackstone’s $26 billion buyout of Hilton Hotels Corporation in 2007.
But other well-known companies have been funded, saved, or restructured through private equity. That list includes grocery chain Safeway, fast food chain Burger King, international racing operator Formula One Group, and hotel and casino company Caesars Entertainment (then called Harrah’s Entertainment).
Many other notable investments could soon pay off for private equity. With IPOs back in season, tech companies like Airbnb and Epic Games are ripe for payouts. At the same time, restructuring companies like J. Crew and Chuck E Cheese’s always offers a chance to recapitalize.
With the COVID-19 economic downturn resulting in newly distressed companies and potential takeover targets, expect the private equity world to be very active in the foreseeable future.
Charted: How Long Does it Take Unicorns to Exit?
There are roughly 1,400 unicorns—startups worth $1 billion or more. How many years does it take these giants to get acquired or go public?
How Long Does it Take For Unicorns to Exit?
For most unicorns—startups with a $1 billion valuation or more—it can take years to see a liquidity event.
Take Twitter, which went public seven years after its 2006 founding. Or Uber, which had an IPO after a decade of operation in 2019. After all, companies first have to succeed and build up their valuation in order to not go bankrupt or dissolve. Few are able to succeed and capitalize in a quick and tidy manner.
So when do unicorns exit, either successfully through an IPO or acquisition, or unsuccessfully through bankruptcy or liquidation? The above visualization from Ilya Strebulaev breaks down the time it took for 595 unicorns to exit from 1997 to 2022.
Unicorns: From Founding to Exit
Here’s how unicorn exits broke down over the last 25 years. Data was collected by Strebulaev at the Venture Capital Initiative in Stanford and covers exits up to October 2022:
(Founding to Exit)
|Unicorn Example||Number of Unicorns
Overall, unicorns exited after a median of eight years in business.
Companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Indeed are among the unicorns that exited in exactly eight years, which in total made up 10% of tracked exits. Another major example is Zoom, which launched in 2011 and went public in 2019 at a $9.2 billion valuation.
There were also many earlier exits, such as YouTube’s one-year turnaround from 2005 founding to 2006 acquisition by Google. Groupon also had an early exit just three years after its founding in 2008, after turning down an even earlier acquisition exit (also through Google).
In total, unicorn exits within 11 years or less accounted for just over three-quarters of tracked exits from 1997 to 2022. Many of the companies that took longer to exit also took longer to reach unicorn status, including website company Squarespace, which was founded in 2003 but didn’t reach a billion-dollar valuation until 2017 (and listed on the NYSE in 2021).
Unicorns, by Exit Strategy
Broadly speaking, there are three main types of exits: going public through an IPO, SPAC, or direct listing, being acquired, or liquidation/bankruptcy.
The most well-known are IPOs, or initial public offerings. These are the most common types of unicorn exits in strong market conditions, with 2021 seeing 79 unicorn IPOs globally, with $83 billion in proceeds.
|# Unicorn IPOs||79||13||-84%|
But the number of IPOs drops drastically given weaker market performance, as seen above. At the end of 2022, an estimated 91% of unicorn IPOs listed since 2021 had share prices fall below their IPO price.
A less common unicorn exit is an SPAC (special purpose acquisition company), although they’ve been gaining momentum and were used by WeWork and BuzzFeed. With an SPAC, a shell company raises money in an IPO and merges with a private company to take it public.
Finally, while an IPO lists new shares to the public with an underwriter, a direct listing sells existing shares without an underwriter. Though it was historically seen as a cheaper IPO alternative, some well-known unicorns have used direct listings including Roblox and Coinbase.
And as valuations for unicorns (and their public listings) have grown, acquisitions have become less frequent. Additionally, many major firms have been buying back shares since 2022 to shore up investor confidence instead of engaging in acquisitions.
Slower Exit Activity
While the growth of unicorns has been exponential over the last decade, exit activity has virtually ground to a halt in 2023.
Investor caution and increased conservation of capital have contributed to the lack of unicorn exits. As of the second quarter of 2023, just eight unicorns in the U.S. exited. These include Mosaic ML, an artificial intelligence startup, and carbon recycling firm LanzaTech.
As exit activity declines, companies may halt listing plans and eventually slow expansion and cut costs. What’s uncertain is whether or not this lull in unicorn exits—and declining influx of private capital influx—is temporary or part of a long-term readjustment.
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