The Accidental Buyout Pro

Bobby Kingsbury is a lot like you right now. He’s sitting at his desk, reading peHUB as a brief diversion before returning to the daily grind of private equity. But there was a very big difference between you and Bobby five months ago: You were still sitting behind your desk, while he was a professional baseball player.

Kingsbury was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002, when he was a junior at Fordham University (where he won a pair of Atlantic 10 Player of the Year awards). He used the leverage of possibly staying in school to get a six-figure signing bonus, and headed into the Pirates’ system. There he climbed through minor leagues as a centerfielder, and played in the 2004 Olympics for the Greek national team (most of the team was made up of Americans with Greek ancestry). The following year he injured his ankle, and returned to Fordham to rehab – with the Pirates picking up his remaining tuition tab.

Then came what looked like his break, when the Pirates invited him to major league camp in the spring of 2006. He didn’t necessarily think he’d necessarily stick, but he knew he was close. Then disaster struck. Quickly.

In the very first inning of his very first game, Kingsbury tore both his rotator cuff and labrum while diving for a ball. He finished the game on adrenalin, even though he couldn’t really throw. The team physician broke the news later that week about the extent of his injuries, and told him that even with surgery he had just a 10% chance of ever returning.

That chance was good enough for Kingsbury, who hopped on the operating table soon after. Unfortunately, he still couldn’t throw well upon his return. The Pirates sent him down to “A” ball, because that’s the only level where he could serve as a designated hitter. His salary was a whopping $1,350 per month. He batted well, and kept rehabbing his shoulder in the off-season at The Cleveland Clinic. He still couldn’t throw, and some of his old Fordham friends began encouraging him to return to New York to capitalize on his finance major.

In order to make ends meet while in Cleveland, Bobby gave hitting lessons to local high-school players. Most of the boys came with over-involved fathers, who would occasionally lash out at their sons, instructor or both. But one just sat there intensely watching, and rarely saying a word. After one session, he came up to Kingsbury and asked how his rehab was going. Upon hearing the dispiriting response, the father told Kingsbury to check out a website for MCM Capital, a Cleveland-based private equity firm focused on the middle-markets. It was looking for a business development pro.

The message was clear: Perhaps it was time to begin considering a future without baseball.

Kingsbury could barely define private equity, but was nonetheless intrigued. The father – MCM managing director Mark Mansour – set up interviews with other MCM pros.

“One of them said: ‘So, you’ve never worked before in your life,’” Kingsbury says. “I told him that he should try playing 146 games in 150 days while riding a bus all over the place. Then tell me it’s not work… I think they all thought [Mansour] was crazy when he told them that he thinks he found the right guy and he is giving his son baseball lessons.”

But Kingsbury won them over, and in early February took the seat he’s currently sitting in. He signed his baseball retirement papers right there, and one week later was down in Orlando for ACG Intergrowth (where I first met him).

“The hours are certainly different, because I was used to going to bed at 4 and waking up at noon,” he says. “And there’s obviously still competitive pressure to perform, but it’s different because you don’t have fans there or other players on your team all out for themselves. I’m not sure I should say this, but I think it’s probably easier than baseball.”

No problem saying it Bobby. Most PE pros would give up their job in a heartbeat, if they thought they even had a chance at A ball. But they don’t.