Carlyle CEO Kewsong Lee resigns in sudden exit

Former co-CEO William Conway will serve as interim chief; newly formed office of the CEO will help find a permanent successor.

Carlyle Group chief executive Kewsong Lee is stepping down immediately, months before his five-year contract was due to finish at the end of 2022, affiliate title Private Equity International reported

Carlyle said in a statement on Sunday that its board of directors and Lee had “mutually agreed” on the decision and that the “timing is right to initiate the search for a new CEO to lead Carlyle forward in its next phase of growth”. 

The abrupt departure comes as the $376 billion firm diversifies its asset base and earnings streams amid a strategic plan that includes a fundraising goal of at least $130 billion by 2024. More than half of Carlyle’s fundraising now comes from global credit, infrastructure, renewables and solutions, according to the firm’s second-quarter results.

Carlyle is in the market with its latest North America flagship vehicle, Carlyle Partners VIII, which is seeking $22 billion, as well as a fifth Europe technology fund, according to PEI data.

Lee had said during the firm’s Q2 results call in July that market conditions will make private equity fundraising tougher, and warned of longer capital-raising timelines“No doubt the fundraising environment is challenging right now, and this could persist for a bit as LPs adjust to the market dynamics. It’s most challenging in [the] corporate private equity segment of the market,” Lee said.

William Conway, co-founder and former co-CEO of Carlyle, will serve as interim chief while the search for a new candidate takes place. Lee will assist in the leadership transition, according to the statement.

An office of the CEO has been established to assure a seamless transition once Lee’s permanent successor has been identified. This group comprises Peter Clare, CIO for corporate private equity and chairman of Americas PE; Mark Jenkins, head of global credit; Ruulke Bagijn, head of global investment solutions; Curtis Buser, CFO; Christopher Finn, COO; and Bruce Larson, chief human resources officer – according to the statement.

Carlyle named Lee sole CEO in 2020, less than three years after the firm’s founders – Conway, David Rubenstein and Daniel D’Aniello – handed over the reins to Glenn Youngkin and Lee. 

Lee joined Carlyle in 2013 as deputy CIO for corporate private equity and was previously a dealmaker at Warburg Pincus.