Former Willis Stein and Bear Pros Launch Placement Agency

Phil Pool, a venerable name in the placement agent business, is hanging an independent shingle, forming Navidar Capital LLC along with fellow industry heavyweight Leo van den Thillart.

Pool most recently worked with Chicago-based buyout shop Willis Stein & Partners, where he served as managing director, investor relations and business development, since 2001. He had been part of the original fund placement business formed by Merrill Lynch in 1988. In a move that set up a well-known rivalry, he left Merrill in 1994 to form a fund placement business at the then-Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (later acquired by CSFB).

For his part, van den Thillart comes to Navidar from Bear Stearns & Co. He was the leader of that company’s Private Fund Group prior to its acquisition by JP Morgan Chase in May 2008. Before that, van den Thillart founded Crane Capital Associates, whose fund placement business was bought by Bear Stearns in February 2007.

Pool says that Navidar Capital is still in the formative stages, and it’s not slated to formally open for business until the fourth quarter of 2009. He anticipates bringing on “a few more partners,” but declined to provide further details.

Meantime, questions have arisen about Willis Stein’s active status for awhile now, as the firm hasn’t raised a fund since closing on $1.8 billion in capital commitments for its third fund in June 2001. The high-profile difficulties of certain investments — like Ziff Davis, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2008 — haven’t helped matters. Avy Stein said following the Ziff Davis bust that his firm planned to raise a fourth fund with a $1 billion target, but the effort doesn’t appear to have gotten much traction..

On its website, Willis Stein lists eight investments in its active portfolio: Aavid Thermal Technologies Inc., a Concord, N.H., maker of thermal management devices such as heatsinks and heat pipes; CompuPay Inc., a provider of outsourced payroll services headquartered in Miami, Fla.; Education Corporation of America, a Birmingham, Ala.-based provider of secondary education services; Merit Health Systems Corp., a hospital management services company headquartered in Louisville, Ky.; Roll Coater Inc., an Indianapolis-based provider of post-finishing services for metal products; Roundy’s Supermarket Inc., a Milwaukee-based grocery store operator; Strategic Materials Inc., a glass processing company headquartered in Houston; and VelociTel LLC, an Arlington, Va.-based wireless network services provider.

This article was first published in Buyouts magazine, where Mike Baron is the managing editor. Read more of the magazine’s quarterly issue here.