Mike Richter: From NHL to LBO

Mike Richter is an eternal idol to fans of the New York Rangers and Team USA hockey clubs. Now he wants to repeat his success in the private equity market.

Richter is part of Environmental Capital Partners, a new firm that will focus on middle-market opportunities in the “green” space. ECP recently received a $100 million cornerstone commitment from New York Private Bank & Trust, and is planning to raise an additional $100 million from other limited partners. Its typical transaction will require an equity investment of between $10 and $25 million, for companies in such niches as green consumer products, eco-friendly building materials, alternative energy and industrial environmental services.

“Someone will make an absolute fortune with more speculative, or early-stage, opportunities, but we didn’t want to be VC-oriented,” Richter says. “We wanted to go further down the chain for more day-to-day things that overlay our lives… like say a furniture-making process that uses less energy than normal.”

Richter joins a growing list of ex-pro athletes who have entered some segment of the private equity market, including John Hummer, Harris Barton and Ronnie Lott (Joe Montana tried his hand, but later left). It would be easy to dismiss this as a vanity or ego play, but Richter is sincere in both words and action.

He says that he spent much of his hockey downtime reading nonfiction environmental books, including by Bill McKibbon and Paul Hawken. Upon retirement after the 2003 season, he enrolled in Yale University through the Eli Whitney Students Program. There, he met Dr. Stephen Kellert, a noted professor of social ecology in Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

It was through Kellert that Richter eventually hooked up with William Staudt, a veteran private equity pro who had recently led a majority investment in something called Environmental Quality Management Inc. Staudt said he was forming a new “green” private equity firm focused on the middle-markets, and eventually signed up both Richter and Kellert.

“I’m not quick to jump on things, and am pretty selfish with where I put my time and enregies,” Richter explains. “But I felt this was an opportunity to continue focusing on environmentalism and to learn the business aspect of it.”

He adds that his personal reputation should be a net positive in terms of getting ECP’s foot into certain doors, but cautions that the celebrity factor will only take them so far – particularly in terms of deals outside of the Tri-State area.

In addition to Staudt (managing partner), Kellert and Richter, the ECP team also includes managing partner Robert Egan (former senior advisor to JPMorgan Partners and founding partner of Chase Capital) and principal Chris Staudt (former senior associate with the Argentum Group).