Joe Bae Named Co-CEO of KKR, Becoming 2nd Korean American CEO of a PE Giant

Joseph Bae, a Korean American and co-president of KKR & Co., was named co-chief executive officer earlier this week at the world’s No. 3 private equity firm. Bae is the second Korean American CEO to lead a global private equity giant after Kewsong Lee became the sole CEO of the Carlyle Group last year.

According to CNBC, KKR grew from a single $30 million fund in 1978 to more than $429 billion in assets under management currently, by attracting money from some of the world’s largest institutional investors such as pension plans and sovereign wealth funds. These assets span private equity, real estate, corporate credit and hedge funds.

Bae and co-CEO Scott Nuttall started at KKR in 1996 within weeks of each other, became co-presidents in 2017, and now succeed Henry Kravis and George Roberts, who were the co-founders of KKR.

Bae, 49, has been the main driver of KKR’s expansion into Asia, making the firm the largest U.S. private equity investor on the continent. The Korean-American dealmaker also sat on the investment committees of KKR’s global private equity business.

Bae has been involved in the firm’s multiple mega deals in Korea, including its $1.8 billion takeover of Oriental Brewery in 2009. KKR sold OB for $5.8 billion five years later.

Early Life

Bae immigrated to the US at the age of three along with his father, a chemical research scientist, and his mother, a missionary. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University, he spent two years with Goldman Sachs’s principal investments group.

He was on the verge of starting Harvard Business School when he got a headhunter call about an opportunity to work as an analyst at KKR. According to the Bloomberg interview below, Bae left campus two weeks before classes started and has been at KKR ever since.

Watch Joseph Bae and Scott Nuttall, newly named co-CEOs at KKR, sit down with Bloomberg’s Jason Kelly at the Bloomberg Invest Summit 2018 in New York to discuss teamwork at the top:

Korean American Leaders in Global Private Equity

Bae is part of a growing group of Korean American financiers who have recently been taking center stage in the world of global private equity.

Kewsong Lee became sole chief executive of the Carlyle Group back in October of 2020. Carlyle Group is a private equity fund with over $256 billion assets under management. Lee joined Carlyle Group in 2013 and had been co-chief since 2018. He started his career at McKinsey & Co. after receiving an M.B.A. from Harvard University.

Since 2017, Michael Chae, another Korean American, has been chief financial officer at the Blackstone Group, the number one global private equity fund in the world with $619 billion in assets under management. Blackstone recently revamped its office in Korea and is seeking to expand investment across Asia. Mr. Chae received an AB from Harvard College, an MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge University, and a JD from Yale Law School.

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