‘A whole new ball game’

As firms evolve from private equity shops to multi-alternative asset managers, KKR’s Bill Janetschek tells Marine Cole how the role of CFOs and finance departments has changed.

Times used to be simpler for chief financial officers and the finance departments of large alternative asset managers, recalls Bill Janetschek. He should know; KKR’s main number cruncher is a prime example of how things have changed.

“Twenty years ago, if you were the CFO, you just needed to make sure you provided quarterly valuations, financial statements and tax returns to your PE LPs,” he says from KKR’s offices overlooking Central Park, adding that CFOs typically came from the big four accounting firms and most had tax backgrounds.

Janetschek began his career at Deloitte Touche and quickly became a tax partner focusing solely on KKR for more than a decade. When KKR brought the tax function in-house in 1997 it hired Janetschek, before promoting him to replace the firm’s retiring CFO a year later (while also continuing to oversee the tax department).

Since those early days, much has changed at KKR and in the private equity industry. Janetschek stopped wearing two hats in 2009 when the firm hired a global tax director. His role as CFO had already grown significantly, beginning in 2004 when KKR, planning to diversify its revenue stream and asset base, expanded its platform from being a private equity shop only to a multi-alternative asset manager, adding a credit business, followed by real estate, energy, infrastructure and capital markets, among others. 

This transformation has seen Janetschek’s role become much more strategic as he works regularly in concert with KKR’s co-chief executives, Henry Kravis and George Roberts, and with the heads of each of KKR’s different businesses, to conduct and plan continued growth at the firm.

This evolution is reflective of the types of CFOs alternative asset managers are increasingly seeking.

“Nowadays, you’re looking for a CFO with a more well-rounded business background,” he says. “People who now sit in the CFO role are a lot more strategic than they were 20 years ago. They’re helping a firm run its businesses.”

As a result, CFOs coming to alternative asset firms today are more likely to have worked at a bank than an accounting firm and often have a strong operating background.
It’s not only the role of the CFO that has evolved but also the importance of the finance department, thanks to increased regulation following Dodd-Frank, the demands from limited partners for more transparency and to alternative managers being publicly traded. Out of a total of about 1,200 employees, KKR’s finance department counts 175 people spread out around the world in more than 20 offices. Some 40 of them focus just on management company reporting.

Meanwhile, increased transparency requests prompted by the Institutional Limited Partners Association have required greater resources.

Since ILPA issued its fee reporting template, KKR has hired a handful of additional people dedicated to more in-depth requests related to the template.

“Every year, we are providing more information and more granular detail and responding to customized requests. That requires staff to handle the information,” Janetschek says. “This is a whole new ball game.”