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Carlyle’s chief executive resigns after breakdown in contract talks

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Private equity giant Carlyle Group is replacing its chief executive Kewsong Lee, who will leave the New York and Washington-based group just two years after he was appointed in July 2020.

Lee’s exit, announced on Sunday evening, came after Carlyle’s board met and decided to end contract negotiations with Lee, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. Lee, who was named co-chief executive in 2017 alongside Glenn Youngkin, was given a five-year contract that expired at the end of the year.

After Carlyle notified Lee that it had decided to not renew his contract, he decided to step down immediately. William Conway, a co-founder of Carlyle, will become its interim leader as it looks for a full-time replacement.

“With Kewsong Lee’s employment agreement soon coming to a close and the firm on a strong footing and entering its next phase of growth, our board and he mutually agreed that now is the right time to initiate a search for a new CEO to lead the company forward,” said Conway in a memo sent to employees and seen by the Financial Times.

“[W]e must continue to execute our business plan and build on the firm’s strong performance across our three segments,” he added.

The decision surprised close followers of Carlyle. “[T]his is a sudden and unwelcome surprise change, particularly in light of the positive progress that we believe the firm has made during [Lee’s] tenure in terms of accelerating growth, entering new business verticals, and expanding profitability,” said Robert Lee, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

“We had just this past week met with Lee [and] a group of investors, and he appeared comfortable in his position and optimistic about the strategic direction of the firm,” he added.

Carlyle shares had slid 5.4 per cent by early afternoon trading in New York.

The sudden exit throws the $376bn group’s leadership into renewed upheaval as it navigates a more challenging investment environment, with volatile markets and a pullback in commitments from institutional investors.

It also marks another impromptu change in Carlyle’s succession planning beyond co-founders Conway, David Rubenstein and Daniel D’Aniello, who formed the group in 1987.

Unlike competitors such as KKR, Carlyle has struggled to identify its next generation of leadership. Lee served as co-chief executive alongside Youngkin, a split role that was supposed to resemble the joint leadership of Conway and Rubenstein during the firm’s ascent into a publicly listed industry giant.

However, Youngkin decided to retire at the end of 2020 amid friction with Lee, plunging Carlyle’s succession plan into turmoil. In 2021, Youngkin launched a successful run to be governor of Virginia.

Lee took over sole leadership of Carlyle as it recovered from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic, which had caused it to record steep losses as performance flagged in many of its investment funds.

Under Lee, Carlyle’s business rebounded as he plotted the firm’s expansion in credit and insurance-related investments under new leadership. He also set a target of raising $130bn in new money by 2024, with much of the fundraising focused away from Carlyle’s traditional corporate buyout business.

In second-quarter earnings released in late July, Carlyle had made it more than halfway to Lee’s target, which he insisted the firm would hit. However, fundraising in its buyout unit has slowed. In the second quarter, its new flagship fund raised just $2.2bn.

At the same time, Carlyle expanded quickly elsewhere, striking a partnership with insurer Fortitude Re that brought in $48bn in assets last quarter.

In an interview with the Financial Times in late July, Lee emphasised Carlyle’s diversification from private equity buyouts, in which the firm first made its name under Conway and Rubenstein.

“The largest share of our fee-earning assets under management is now associated with global credit,” said Lee, brushing off fundraising challenges in Carlyle’s eighth flagship buyout fund as “old news”.

“It’s a very different firm than just a few years back,” he said. “We have been deliberately diversifying our business.”

Conway, who for decades oversaw Carlyle’s private equity investments, said he was “grateful” to Lee for his efforts to “position Carlyle for the future”.

Lee said he was “thankful for the opportunity to build the firm with an incredibly talented and committed team”.

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World Cup pits football against NFL in battle for eyeballs

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This article is an online version of our Scoreboard newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every Saturday

The rejuvenation of Formula 1 under US group Liberty Media will surely be examined in business schools for years to come. But this week I got a sneak preview of a new series centred on the nonagenarian who turned F1 into a global business and paved the way for private equity to get into the sport. That’s right, Bernie Ecclestone is on screen to relive his experience. More recently in the news for his tax affairs and defending Vladimir Putin, Ecclestone is telling his own story in a sort of video autobiography. Director Manish Pandey, writer of the 2010 film on the life of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, spent much of the pandemic sifting through archive footage and piecing together the tale. It was a reminder of how much the sport has changed . ..

Speaking of change, it looks like soccer football is finally cutting through in the United States, where millions of fans are tuning into the World Cup. Keep reading to find out why that’s extra impressive — and what it means for the future. We also dig into the family dynasty that owns Juventus, the Italian football club that’s defending its accounting methods.

By the way, we’ll be discussing the eventual result of the World Cup — and much more — at the next instalment of our Business of Football Summit on 1-2 March, 2023. Scoreboard subscribers can sign up for a complimentary digital pass using promo code PREMIUM23 or save £400 on your in-person pass to join us at The Biltmore Mayfair, on 2 March. Register here.

Do read on — Samuel Agini, sports business reporter

Send us tips and feedback at scoreboard@ft.com. Not already receiving the email newsletter? Sign up here. For everyone else, let’s go.

USA’s Tim Weah: American hero © Patrick Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The World Cup group stage yielded a mixed bag for North America: Canada and Mexico were eliminated this week, while the United States squeaked through to the Round of 16 on what appeared to be a ball-busting goal (see Final Whistle below) to defeat Iran on Tuesday.

If the on-pitch performance for the next hosts of the quadrennial tournament leaves something to be desired, their television ratings may be making up for it: broadcasts of the Qatar World Cup are smashing records, even as the world’s biggest football fest runs for the first time against the busiest stretch of the North American sports calendar.

Fox, which holds English-language broadcast rights in the US across its cable and news networks in the US, has averaged 3.15mn viewers through the first 10 days of the World Cup, up 44 per cent from the equivalent period in the 2018 tournament, according to Sports Media Watch. NBC’s Telemundo and Peacock, which carry the region’s Spanish-language broadcasts and streaming, posted growth of 24 per cent viewership over the same period.

Critically, ratings for the US team present the most modern portrait of domestic viewer consumption, given it’s the stars and stripes’ first appearance in the World Cup since 2014, before the current rights deal with Fox took effect. (That year’s tournament was broadcast on ESPN and Univision.) Fox ratings for the US team average 11.7mn viewers through the group stage, up 10 per cent from eight years ago.

These ratings are extra impressive given the timezone differential (the US east coast is eight hours behind Qatar) and, most notably, driving against a packed schedule of National Football League and US college football games. The first full week of the World Cup coincided with the US Thanksgiving holiday, a traditional fest for both slices of the American football variety. The NFL calculated that 138mn people watched its games on Thanksgiving — more than 40 per cent of the US population — while that afternoon’s Giants-Cowboys game drew 42mn viewers, the highest-rated regular season NFL match on record.

Gridiron football clearly reigns supreme in the US, but early gains in viewership through the World Cup group stage are an encouraging sign for the global game in its most important growth market. The early match times are also ideal for families with children, who can watch whole games during the afternoons, unlike prime time sports after bedtime. With the Americans set to face the Netherlands today in the knockout round, time will tell if both the on-pitch and on-screen success continues.

You can watch our video on the legacy of the Qatar World Cup here.

Why Juventus is a problem for this family dynasty

Andrea Agnelli and Pavel Nedvěd: out © STRINGER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The billionaire Agnelli family’s loyalty to Juventus football club has come back to bite.

The club’s directors, including chair Andrea Agnelli and vice-chair Pavel Nedvěd, resigned en masse this week, with Italian authorities upping the pressure over its approach to accounting since the coronavirus pandemic smashed revenues.

Turin prosecutors are seeking indictments for a dozen current and former Juventus executives for alleged market manipulation and false accounting. Uefa, European football’s governing body, is investigating the club’s finances.

Juventus said it is “convinced that it has always acted correctly”. 

The debacle raises questions for John Elkann, grandson of Italian statesman-industrialist Gianni Agnelli, the modern-day family leader. The New York-born tycoon has been unafraid to make radical changes at Exor, the vehicle through which the Agnellis control Juve, having already shifted its headquarters from Italy to the Netherlands.

The history of the family and the club are deeply intertwined, going back around a century, but will trouble at Juve raise questions about the future? A person close to Exor insisted Juve isn’t up for sale.

Despite the financial woes and clashes with authorities, Juve barely registers in the Exor empire. Through the holding company, the family holds investments in Ferrari, The Economist magazine, and fashion brand Christian Louboutin.

With a net asset value of €29bn, Exor can afford to ride out short-term pain at a football club valued at €710mn on the stock market, even if the headlines in the short-term are unhelpful at best.

But European clubs are in high demand. There could be options if Exor is up for a discussion, particularly after Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital Partners acquired AC Milan for €1.2bn earlier this year. We put together this video explainer of that deal.

There should be upside to improve performance at Juve, which has lost more than €550mn in the last three seasons. In a letter to shareholders in October, Andrea Agnelli said the annual loss of €254mn in the 2021-22 campaign was “certainly the gloomiest moment” from an “economic-financial point of view”.

Perhaps Exor wouldn’t relinquish control, but what would it say to a pitch from a strategic investor with a vision?

The best of the FT’s World Cup coverage this week

Lionel Messi: main man © Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
  • In blue and white, Lionel Messi has always operated in the shadow of Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. Now that Argentina have emerged from the scare of losing to Saudi Arabia, Messi has another chance at the biggest prize on the international stage.

  • Gas-rich Qatar has been put under scrutiny for its human rights record, treatment of migrants and LGBTQ+ people. But its hosting of the World Cup has also been a rare source of unity in the Arab world.

  • The Qatari official in charge of delivering the 2022 World Cup has said that around 400 people died during the construction work associated with preparations for the tournament, a far higher figure than previously given.

  • What does it mean to support a football team, really? Increasingly flexible allegiances are coming to define international football, with fans happy to wear the colours of another nation than their own.

Highlights

  • The Qatari owners of Paris Saint-Germain are targeting a valuation of more than €4bn in talks with potential investors that would set a new benchmark for a football club and boost expectations for others currently on the market.

  • The National Basketball Association will allow sovereign wealth and pension funds to buy into teams, according to Sportico, broadening the range of investors that can enter the sport. The move comes after the NBA previously relaxed its bylaws to permit private equity firms to take minority stakes in teams.

Final Whistle

Christian Pulisic: ouch © @MenInBlazers

Christian Pulisic has been the face of US football for the better part of a decade, after star turns at Borussia Dortmund and currently as a midfielder at Chelsea. He finally got his chance to cement his status with his first goal in a World Cup on Tuesday, the eventual winning score that sent the Americans to the knockout round — but not before Pulisic himself was knocked out on the very point itself. Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand inadvertently collided with Pulisic directly between his legs, sending the Hershey, Pennsylvania native crumbling to the ground and out for the rest of the match.

With a must-win match against the Netherlands today, and Pulisic’s status throughout the week still tentative, the burning question on every American’s mind has been: how long, uh, does it take to recover from, you know, getting kicked between the legs? Pulisic himself gave a breakdown on Thursday.

Scoreboard is written by Josh Noble, Samuel Agini and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produce the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualisation team

Cryptofinance — Scott Chipolina filters out the noise of the global cryptocurrency industry. Sign up here

Unhedged — Robert Armstrong dissects the most important market trends and discusses how Wall Street’s best minds respond to them. Sign up here



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Opec+ tipped to hold oil output levels steady

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Opec and its allies are expected to keep the group’s oil output targets unchanged when it meets this weekend, with one eye on the impact of European sanctions targeting Russia’s oil that come into force next week.

The Opec+ group, which includes Saudi Arabia and Russia as its two largest producers, could still decide to make a small production cut, according to people familiar with the group’s discussions, but are leaning towards rolling over production targets.

The group was due to meet at Opec’s headquarters on Sunday but this week changed course to hold the meeting online, in a sign many have interpreted as the group not planning any dramatic shifts in policy.

“It means that they’ve already taken a decision,” said Jorge León, a former Opec official now at energy consultants Rystad.

“Normally, if there’s no agreement ahead of the meeting then it makes sense to bring 23 ministers to the table.”

At Opec+’s last meeting in October, the first held face to face since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the group agreed a cut to production quotas of 2mn barrels a day, but faced fierce pushback from the US and other consumer countries.

While Saudi Arabia argued Opec+ was reducing output because of concerns about a slowing world economy, the White House accused its longtime ally of effectively siding with Russia.

Russia has slashed gas supplies to Europe since its invasion of Ukraine, sparking off an energy-led cost of living crisis that has left many countries grappling with inflation.

The oil price reaction since the Opec+ cuts has been limited, however, with Brent crude, the international benchmark, trading at $87 a barrel on Friday — near where it was when it became clear in October Saudi Arabia was leading a push to lower production.

Oil prices had jumped immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and were trading at $120 a barrel as recently as June.

But they have cooled to roughly where they were trading at the beginning of the year, with Russian oil exports having only slipped slightly since the invasion and China’s zero-Covid policy crimping demand.

That may change in the coming weeks, however, as European sanctions barring seaborne imports of Russian crude come into effect on Monday, with restrictions on refined fuels to follow in February.

The G7 is also launching a so-called price cap that aims to keep Russian oil flowing to other countries like India and China — by granting waivers to sanctions targeting shipping Russian crude — but at a price point set by western powers. The EU agreed on Friday to set the price at $60 a barrel.

Russia has repeatedly said it will not deal with any country utilising the price cap, stoking concerns it could retaliate by severing oil pipeline flows to Europe that were exempt from sanctions.

Amrita Sen, at consultancy Energy Aspects said there were “huge unknowns”.

“It is prudent for Opec+ to hold steady rather than adding to the volatility.”

Officially the next Opec+ meeting after Sunday is not scheduled until June. But Sen said the cartel could take action later in December or early next year to boost or cut supply if required.

“We believe that if the market warrants it, they would meet at a short notice,” she said.

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Crypto broker Genesis owes Winklevoss exchange’s customers $900mn

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Digital asset trading group Genesis and its parent company Digital Currency Group owe customers of the Winklevoss twins’ crypto exchange $900mn as the collapse of FTX reverberates across the market.

New York crypto exchange Gemini, run by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, is trying to recover the funds after Genesis was wrongfooted by last month’s failure of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX crypto group, according to people familiar with the matter.

Gemini’s bid to recover the funds underscores how the crypto lending market, where investors lend out their coins in exchange for high rates of return, sits at the centre of the industry’s credit crunch.

Genesis is the main partner in Gemini’s “earn” programme, where retail investors lend out their coins in exchange for a fixed stream of returns. Gemini halted withdrawals from the scheme last month after Genesis said “unprecedented market turmoil” meant it did not have sufficient liquidity to make good on all of its redemption requests.

Gemini has now formed a creditors’ committee to recoup the funds from Genesis and its parent DCG, the people said. Gemini and Genesis declined to comment.

Genesis has been scrambling to raise funding and has hired investment banking boutique Moelis & Co to help it explore all possible options, according to the people familiar with the situation.

The creditor committee is in negotiations with both Genesis and DCG, the parent group of Genesis which is run by billionaire Barry Silbert, the people said. DCG was founded in 2015 and is one of the biggest investors in the crypto industry. It was valued at $10bn last year by investors including Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, Google’s venture arm CapitalG and SoftBank, and its subsidiaries include Genesis and investment manager Grayscale.

DCG itself owes money to its subsidiary Genesis; these intercompany loans have complicated the picture for creditors.

DCG has $2bn worth of outstanding debt, $1.7bn of which is owed to its own subsidiary Genesis through two loans. Over the summer, Genesis lost $1.1bn on a loan to collapsed hedge fund Three Arrows Capital. DCG took on Genesis’s liabilities in the process, subsequently owing $1.1bn to Genesis. Silbert told investors last week that DCG had separately borrowed $575mn from Genesis “on an arm’s length basis” to fund undisclosed investments and share buybacks from non-employee shareholders.

“Because of the way the liabilities are, they’re negotiating together,” said one person familiar with the matter about Genesis and DCG’s approach to creditors.

DCG declined to comment. The Financial Times revealed last week that some of DCG’s borrowing was used to fund its investments into another of its subsidiaries, Grayscale.

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