Jason Van Dussen traces his interest in finance back to a bargain bin in a Midwestern mall.
Home from Michigan State, in a small town west of Grand Rapids called Nunica, Van Dussen went on a shopping trip with his mom. “They had paperback books for sale for a dollar,” he recalled, and one in particular caught his eye: Merchants of Debt, about the early days of KKR & Co.
“It had a bunch of guys in suits on the cover. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I read it.” His conclusion: “I need to go to New York and get into LBOs.”
Today, Van Dussen heads the capital-markets business at Golub Capital, a credit asset manager, and he can see 9 West — the concave skyscraper where KKR is headquartered — from his own office in Manhattan. “You get into the city, you see these buildings, it inspires me still every day,” he said.
Van Dussen’s work is “a hybrid of the [investment] bank model where it’s three jobs — leveraged finance, sales, and structuring — all under one umbrella. We opine on pricing and leverage to our deal teams,” for both buy-and-hold transactions and loans to be sold on the third-party markets.
Golub serves private equity clients looking to finance buyouts, mostly, or recapitalizations. “They come to us with a leverage ask, or they send us a transaction where they want a leverage ask from us,” Van Dussen explained. He and his team consider the relevant factors — free cash flow, debt-service ability, enterprise value for the industry, comparable transactions — and get back to them with a number, as well as how to get there (through first-lien, second-lien or unitranche solutions).
Van Dussen learned the business at GE Capital, where he spent 12 years. He left in 2007 for a startup called FirstLight, which “got me into the principal side of things. … You’re investing capital in your own deals … avoiding the moral hazard of a large bank, where I think you’re less tied to your fund performance and more to deal volume.”
It was an unlucky moment for a fledgling operation. “We deployed about a billion dollars, had a nice book and got a good reputation going, and then the market froze on us,” Van Dussen said. Though FirstLight did not survive, the experience of working at a startup was instructive. “It’s easy to sell a triple-A balance sheet,” but another matter to build relationships when no one has heard of your firm.
“Luckily, I built up enough of a reputation [that] Golub was willing to reach out,” he says. Last year, Golub provided a $605 million unitranche facility to finance Roark Capital’s combination of Pet Valu and Pet Supermarket, a deal the client wanted “to remain stealth.” Golub held a significant amount but syndicated “probably $350 million in debt, which is pretty hard to do without the press finding out.”
“We went to about 30 guys,” Van Dussen said. “I think the Street would have gone to 200 guys. You keep things a little quieter if you’re going to fewer people.”
Phone: +1 212-750-6060