Stewart Kohl, along with co-CEO Béla Szigethy, leads The Riverside Co., a $10 billion global private equity firm focused on companies at the smaller end of the middle market.
The firm, which employs more than 300 people in offices across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, has made nearly 900 investments, many of them since Kohl joined in 1993. While there have been lots of success stories born of those investments, there have also been missed opportunities.
"In our world, typically a mistake is defined as a deal where we don't get back all of our money, let alone a positive return on it," Kohl said during an interview with Smart Business President and CEO Fred Koury. "It happens — fortunately not too often — but all of those are painful mistakes."
One painful mistake Kohl recalls was an opportunity the firm had relatively early in its history to buy a little company that is now well known by many: Burt's Bees.
"We met the owner, the founder of that company, a very creative woman, and we talked to her a lot about how we could work together to help grow the business," he said. "But ultimately, we didn't step to the plate the way we should have and somebody else did and the company started to take off. We had another swing at that pitch later when she came back to market, now looking for a much higher valuation, and we again didn't stretch to it and somebody else did."
Long story short, ultimately that company grew and was eventually bought by The Clorox Co. for $925 million dollars. While it was a big miss, it wasn't a critical mistake.
"We've bought, built up and sold multiple companies for over $1 billion and we tend to start with businesses valued for in many cases under $100 million," he says. "So, when you buy the right company in the right industry with the right leadership, the sky's the limit."
Kohl spoke on Dealmaker TV's SmartTalk program about what he learned from his first job, how mentorship has impacted his career, work/life balance, and giving back. Hit play to catch the full conversation.