Tilton’s Salacious Style Turning Heads and Deals

Today’s most risqué PE profile goes to the WSJ’s story on Lynn Tilton, the founder and CEO of Patriarch Partners.

Tilton, according to the story, has “platinum blond hair, tight leather skirts and a penchant for racy remarks.” Behind Tilton’s glam facade is a sophisticated distressed debt investor and manufacturing tycoon who has become one of the richest self-made women in America. She heads Patriarch, a New York PE firm, and “owns all or part of 74 companies with revenues of more than $8 billion and 120,000 employees,” the WSJ says.

Tilton built her fortune by buying down-and-out manufacturing firms and bringing them back to life with new management teams and products. She revived a defunct Maine paper mill by turning it into a maker of alternative fuels. A money-losing helicopter maker founded by Howard Hughes Tilton made profitable through exports and sales to U.S. rescue workers and the military, the story says. Tilton also bought up auto-parts companies during the depths of the depression.

With these successes, the WSJ notes the “distraction of her personality.”

“Her office uniform usually includes five-inch stilettos, an eight-carat diamond necklace and the occasional black leather jumpsuit. Her office walls are filled with whips and handcuffs sent to her by friends, Hashemite daggers given to her by Middle Eastern royals, New Age paintings and a portrait of her stretched across the hood of a black Mercedes.”

Tilton’s comments are even racier. When visiting Detroit, Tilton got a cool reception from Tony Brown, Ford Motor Co.’s purchasing chief who asked her if she was like other PE execs that “strip and flip” their companies. “You must be mistaken,” she shot back. “It’s only men that I strip and flip. My companies I hold long and close to my heart.”

Interestingly, I looked back at an October profile of Tilton from The Deal that is called “Tenacious PE.” That story also made mention of Tilton’s edgy style but didn’t spend so much time on it. (Tilton reportedly told NPR that “I need to look sufficiently fierce to make sure that I garner the respect that I deserve.”)

Yes, Tilton does have stiletto heels, leather pants and diamond encrusted watches. And yes, the WSJ story is more interesting (and it does mention employee churn at Patriarch being high because of Tilton’s tough personality) but I learned some interesting bits from The Deal without the constant focus on her salaciousness. For instance, Tilton’s PE firm has about $500 million in dry powder and it’s taken part in some interesting transactions. Here’s more from The Deal:

“Tilton’s media profile also began to grow as Patriarch began to target more iconic American brands. There was the drawn-out brawl for Polaroid Corp. last year, eventually won by Hilco Consumer Capital LP and Gordon Brothers Brands LLC. And this year, Patriarch made it to the final stages of bidding for Newsweek, which was eventually sold to audio equipment mogul Sidney Harman. Over the past 10 years, Patriarch has bought into 250 distressed companies, most with revenue below $500 million. Recent investments include Tripology, a map and travel guide turned online travel company, and Rochester Hills, Mich.-based auto parts manufacturer Dura Automotive Systems Inc.”