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GP Profile: Wilbur Ross has no plans to retire

What would Carlyle Group be without David Rubenstein or Bill Conway? What would Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co be without Henry Kravis? How would Blackstone Group fare without Stephen Schwarzman or Tony James? And what happens to Apollo Global Management without Leon Black?

Facing these types of questions for years now, GPs have been diversifying and building up a deep bench of talent and laying out potential succession plans to LPs. Meanwhile, there’s no reason to think the Baby Boomers and pre-Baby Boomers in charge of many private equity firms nowadays won’t have at least a few more years of runway. Plenty of lions from the ranks of corporate America continue to be active: Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, T. Boone Pickens, Sumner Redstone. Armand Hammer ran Occidental Petroleum until his death at the age of 92.

To be sure, private equity firms continue to remake themselves with our without their founding members. Thomas H. Lee lives on as a firm without its namesake. Hellman & Friedman no longer employs co-founder Tully Friedman, while co-founder Warren Hellman died in 2011. Under new leadership, the firm raised $10 billion for Hellman & Friedman Capital Partners VIII LP this year.

Among the class of value-oriented buyouts, billionaire Wilbur Ross, 76, stands out as the founder of WL Ross & Co in 2000 with $440 million in capital after making his name as a distress and turnaround banker at Rothschild Inc in the 1980s and ’90s.

While Ross turns 77 this month, he told Buyouts he has no plans to retire, although he’s handed over day-to-day duties of running his firm to Stephen Toy and Gary Stoeckle, both senior managing directors and co-leaders of the firm. The elevation of the pair marked the latest step to build up the institutional identity of WL Ross & Co since the firm’s management business was sold to Invesco back in 2006, he said.

“The three of us are jointly responsible (for the firm) but this new structure gives me the time to focus on what I like to do – the big strategic moves,” Ross said. He added that he remains active in his personal life as well, including winning a recent member/guest tennis tournament at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach. “I’m in very good health,” he said. “It’s not that I’m going to an old people’s home or anything like that.”

Ross said he’s been focusing on the firm’s first special purpose acquisition corporation called WL Ross Holding Corp as a blank check company that raised more than $500 million in June to acquire another company. He’s also focused on researching macro trends to form the foundation for future deals.

Steve Gelsi