By Golie Alemi
UCLA Anderson’s Center for Global Management hosted George R. Roberts, co-chairman and co-CEO of KKR, as part of CGM’s Robertson Lecture Series on Global Business Leadership. Roberts joined Dean Judy Olian for a conversation in which he reflected on his four decades of experience in financing, analyzing and investing in public and private companies, and how lessons from private equity translate to social enterprise.
KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. LP) is a global investment firm that manages investments across multiple asset classes, including private equity, energy, infrastructure, real estate, capital markets, credit strategies and hedge funds. KKR pioneered the strategy originally known as the leveraged buyout, but now commonly called private equity, the practice of buying undervalued companies, improving and reselling them, usually at a profit.
Roberts, who co-founded KKR with his cousin Henry Kravis, stressed the importance of fostering relationships when forming partnerships. “The essence of life is having personal relationships. They have to be built on total respect and total trust. The relationship you have with someone is far more important; all that other stuff doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t mean you can’t disagree,” he shared.
Referencing modern management pioneer Peter Drucker, Roberts said the best organizations are those offering a great environment that allows people to do the best work they can. He continued to stress how important it is for leaders to build solid teams and serve as examples: “You have to attract and keep the best people — because you can’t do it on your own. You have to have a vision and you have to be prepared to walk the talk: don’t ask others to do something you wouldn’t do or haven’t done yourself.”
Roberts is also founder and chairman of the board of directors of Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), a San Francisco nonprofit organization established in 1997 that creates jobs and employment opportunities. Roberts started the foundation because he didn’t want to just give his money away; he wanted to make an impact.
“I founded REDF to fund not-for-profit endeavors that would provide training and entry-level jobs for the chronically unemployed, including homeless people, young adults disconnected from work and school, formerly incarcerated individuals, or people with histories of addiction, mental illness or other disabilities,” he said.
Ten thousand individuals have gone through the different groups that REDF helps, and five of the organizations happen to be in Los Angeles. While California is at the forefront of social enterprise, Roberts’ aim is to roll this out on a national scale. In August 2015, REDF received a $7 million social innovation grant from the federal government (making it the largest U.S. government investment to date in social enterprise), which will certainly allow them to further their impactful work.
Following the conversation with Dean Olian, Roberts engaged in a Q&A session with members of the audience. When asked his opinion on what it takes to be a good leader, he explained, “You have to have vision, moral courage and you have to have the people who you want to follow you believe that you care more about their success than you do your own. If you get those three things right, then you’re going to do well.”
About the Robertson Lecture Series on Global Business Leadership
In recognition of UCLA Anderson’s role in preparing the next generation of global leaders, the Robertson Lecture Series on Global Business Leadership provides additional opportunities for students to hear from global leaders for a discussion around critical issues that impact global business and the global political economy. Made possible by Chip Robertson (FEMBA ’06) and his family, and managed by the Center for Global Management, the Robertson Lectures on Global Business Leadership serves to provide more opportunities for UCLA Anderson MBA students to acquire global leadership perspectives and insights on key and emerging regions of the world. The Robertson family has dedicated these lectures to Leo M. Harvey (1887–1973), a pioneer industrialist and inventor, founder of Harvey Aluminum and great grandfather of Chip Robertson.