Foreign Invaders

Tim Collins has just wrapped up his monthly three-day stint in Japan. After round-the-clock meetings, he sounds tired but pleased. "Something extraordinary happened," he says, then adds with a chuckle, "but I can't tell you about it for at least another month."

If history is any guide, the news will probably be yet another multimillion-dollar acquisition that will throw the spotlight once again on the 45-year-old Kentuckian and the company he named after his grandma's tobacco farm. Ripplewood Holdings might be little known in the U.S., but the private-equity firm, based in New York City,...

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