These are not halcyon days for the private equity industry. Returns are down. Fundraising is trying. A tax hike looms.
But such challenges did not deter one of the industry’s titans, David Bonderman, from throwing a 70th birthday bash for about 700 of his closest friends at the Wynn resort in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Paul McCartney was the party’s surprise musical guest, playing for more than two hours. Himself a newly minted septuagenarian, the former Beatle headlined a concert that also featured the comedian Robin Williams and the rocker John Fogerty. Mr. McCartney played numerous Beatles hits, including “Revolution” and, in a song befitting a 70th birthday, “Long and Winding Road.”
“Paul McCartney is now playing at Bonderman’s bday bash in Vegas,” wrote Jon States, who described himself as a concert promoter, on his Twitter feed Saturday night. “Amazing to see him in such an intimate setting #onceinalifetime.”
The party for Mr. Bonderman, the founding partner of TPG, is the latest extravagant birthday celebration thrown by a private equity billionaire. During the summer of 2010, Leon D. Black marked his 60th with a show by Elton John at his oceanfront estate in Southampton, on Long Island. Stephen A. Schwarzman’s 60th, thrown at the Park Avenue Armory in 2007 and featuring a Rod Stewart concert, became a symbol of the new Gilded Age.
Indeed, it was “Bondo,” which is what his friends and colleagues call him, who set the standard for these blowouts a decade ago. For his 60th birthday, held at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, he hired the Rolling Stones and John Mellencamp to play a concert.
The aging rockers who play these affairs, Mr. McCartney, along with the Rolling Stones and Elton John, are part of a growing cottage industry of stars that play private concerts for hire. Mr. Bonderman was not even the first moneyman to score Mr. McCartney as a headline act. In 2003, the San Diego money manager Ralph V. Whitworth hired Sir Paul to play at his wife’s 50th birthday.
It is unclear how much Mr. McCartney earned for Saturday night’s performance, but music-industry executives say that his ask is well north of $1 million.
Whatever the appearance fee, it was a rounding error for Mr. Bonderman, who is worth about $2.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine. A Harvard Law School graduate, he began his career as a civil rights lawyer and bankruptcy lawyer in Washington before moving to Texas to work for the billionaire financier Robert Bass.
In 1993, he and his colleague, James Coulter, left Bass to start TPG. The firm, based in Fort Worth, Texas, and San Francisco, has ownership stakes in businesses including the clothing company J. Crew, the retailer Neiman Marcus, the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, and the health care business IMS Health.
TPG has posted tepid returns in its most recent fund in part because of two of its largest investments that have gone sour. The firm’s $1.35 investment in 2008 in Washington Mutual was wiped out after the government seized the Seattle thrift and sold it to JPMorganChase. And TPG has written down nearly the entire value of its stake in Energy Future Holdings, the Texas utility that it acquired in the largest leveraged buyout ever, a $44 billion top-of-the-market deal struck in 2007.
The firm’s latest fund – TPG VI, a nearly $20 billion pool of capital raised in 2008 – has generated a net return of 1.46 percent since inception.
But TPG’s issues, along with those of the broader private equity industry, were put aside this past weekend. Guests at Mr. Bonderman’s party included Hamilton E. James, the president of the private equity firm Blackstone Group; Michael D. Eisner, the former chief executive of Disney; and Marc E. Kasowitz, the New York trial lawyer. Mr. Bonderman donated $1,000 to a charity of each guest’s choice.
“Just a Sat nite bday bash in Vegas with Robin Williams, John Fogerty, and Paul McCartney,” wrote Charlotte Moss, a New York interior designer who attended the party, on her Twitter feed. “We rocked the Wynn.”