Cooper’s Take: Private-Equity Firms Rally Around Puerto Rico

Charitable fund founded by Orlando Bravo with a $10 million donation has collected $15 million more from the private-equity community

[Laura Cooper  |  WSJ]


Private-equity executives have long put their financial firepower behind philanthropic projects—Stephen Schwarzman’s donation to the New York Public Library and David Rubenstein’s efforts to repair and protect national icons such as the Washington Monument are two of the more prominent examples.

In that same tradition, Orlando Bravo, a managing partner at software and technology-focused firm Thoma Bravo and a native of Puerto Rico, is channeling his philanthropic efforts into something not quite made of marble or stone, as he seeks to send supplies to Puerto Ricans struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Mr. Bravo in late September founded a fund to provide aid to Puerto Rico and donated $10 million to the cause. Since then, others in the private-equity industry have added their support to the fund, Podemos Puerto Rico, which recently announced that it collected an additional $15 million—bringing its coffers to $25 million.

Among those that contributed are Joseph Baratta of Blackstone Group LP, Jean-Pierre Conte of Genstar Capital, Ian Loring of Bain Capital, Hollie Moore Haynes of Luminate Capital Partners and Dave Roux, former chairman of Silver Lake, as well as KKR & Co., which provided a firmwide contribution. Along with the private-equity sponsors, attorneys from law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP contributed to the fund, according to a news release.

The fund has expanded quickly, helped along by Mr. Bravo’s reach in the private-equity community. Mr. Bravo said that the way the operation to bring food and water to Puerto Rico works isn’t unlike what a private-equity firm does with a portfolio company.

“We have a great team,” said Mr. Bravo, of the mayors that the fund works with on the ground to get supplies to needed areas. “We partner with great mayors who are great operators. We’re using the same model [as private equity].”

In addition to helping Puerto Ricans rebuild after Hurricane Maria, Mr. Bravo said the new fund has a broader purpose: to help the U.S. territory deal with the fact that its population is declining and that many “talented young adults leave the island for opportunities in the mainland United States.”

“It’s a place where the American dream is very hard to come by,” said Mr. Bravo, who added that even before the hurricane, he had an interest in helping to connect Puerto Rican students on the island with universities, organizing leadership programs and providing education on private equity. He added the fund aims to develop educational programs to work with younger students, who may be struggling as a result of a decline in the number of public schools in Puerto Rico in recent years.

Mr. Bravo, who has been on several trips to Puerto Rico following the hurricane, said his private-equity peers also have had a keen interest in traveling to the country and aiding in relief firsthand.

Though private-equity managers have deep pockets when it comes to investing in businesses, both their wealth and the skills gained from years raising capital and building companies may be of use in other, more difficult situations.

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