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Actually, he can. Though they are unabashed vultures, Texas Pacific's partners get high grades from airline insiders for their knowledge of the industry and their eye for executive talent. Before any major investment, they walk the halls of the business, checking out employee morale and even the photos on executives' walls. (They prefer folks like US Airways' Siegel who show off their families rather than their handshakes with politicians.)
This touchy-feely stuff comes in part from Bonderman, who taught law at Tulane University in New Orleans in the 1960s but reportedly fell out of favor because of his "hippie" clothing and outspoken liberal viewpoints. He is an ardent conservationist, working with the Grand Canyon Trust and the Wilderness Society.
For all their successes, the partners of TPG have had their share of flops. They bought several confectionary businesses, including part of Kraft Foods' candy division for which they paid $200 million in 1995. The candy investment was bankrupt by 1999 because they failed to anticipate a flood of cheap competing products from Mexico. Their attempt to turn catalog clothier J. Crew into a bricks-and-mortar retailer resulted in an identity crisis that has alienated loyal customers.
Bonderman and his partners, however, believe this is prime time for long-term-value investors. "There's a lot of trouble in the world, but it is also a potential time of value," says Coulter. "As investors, we like this environment better than the bubble. It may stay rough for a while, but we're focused five years out."