by David Snow, Editor in Chief, PrivateEquityCentral.net
When he was 13 years old, Darryl Behrman went on a hunting trip with his father in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley, and it was there that Darryl stood up to one of the many challenges he was to experience in his life. The challenge on this particular day came in the form of two large elephants, which suddenly began charging toward Darryl’s father. Darryl quickly steadied his heavy rifle and began firing. Both elephants fell dead in their tracks – one 10 paces shy of the eldest Behrman, the other just 8 paces away. Darryl’s heroics made front-page news in Johannesburg.
Years later, employees, partners and managers who attempted to charge ahead with policies or deals that did not measure up to Darryl’s exacting standards were essentially given the same treatment. As the head of Behrman Capital, a highly successful New York- and San Francisco-based private equity firm, Darryl Behrman was a gracious, gentle person who nevertheless was possessed of steely determination that allowed him to surmount whatever elephantine obstacles stood in his way. When he passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 12 at the age of 51, the private equity community lost a truly great character in an industry filled with people who aspire to greatness.
According to Darryl’s brother, Grant, who co-founded Behrman Capital with Darryl in 1991, Darryl had three major passions in his life – family, business and adventure. He apparently excelled at all three. Behrman’s firm is well-known to many in the private equity industry. But those who knew Darryl personally were often so astonished by the extreme nature of his regular “vacations” that they momentarily forgot he was also someone who, between fishing trips to Mongolia and summer jaunts with the Inuit Eskimos, managed to build a billion-dollar investment firm from scratch.
Unlike many other people of material means, Darryl was not content to idyll away his leisure time in pursuit of consumerist pleasures. Instead, his diversions took him places more often visited by National Geographic than vacationing financial professionals. Darryl’s love of the outdoors was formed through the many hunting and fishing trips of his childhood in South Africa. “If you go back to our roots, many of our adventures began in Africa, which Darryl loved,” says Grant. “That love of adventure manifested itself numerous times over the years.”
Most recently, Darryl’s desire to catch the famed Taimen fish brought him to the rivers of Mongolia, where, according to Greg, he managed to reel in a fish that was later certified a world record in its line-class. The honor was not a new one for Darryl – he has held eight world records in fly-fishing.
Family vacations with Darryl involved more than just trips to Disney World. Several years ago, Darryl took his teenage son, Greg, on an expedition to Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic that involved living and hunting with the Inuit Eskimos. “I think he was trying to show his son how the other half lived,” says Dale Meyer, a partner at placement group Probitas Partners, who helped Behrman Capital raise its first fund while at Merrill Lynch.
Darryl approached his outdoor and fitness activities with the same intense preparation and goal-setting he applied to his business. In the early 1980s, he and Grant, inspired by Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea decided they needed to catch a 1,000-pound marlin. After a year of research, the two brothers set off from Cairns, Australia on a fishing boat. They caught a number of fish of varying size, but after ten days at sea, Darryl reeled in an enormous black marlin. It was 1,014 pounds.
When he decided to run the 1997 New York Marathon, friends found Darryl’s preparations for the event more exhausting than the race itself. “He and I were training for marathons at the same time,” says Mario Giannini, the president of Hamilton Lane and a longtime investor with Behrman Capital. “But I was looking at his training regimen and it put mine to shame.”
In order to ensure he was selected for the race, Darryl mailed his entry form at the stroke of midnight on the earliest day the forms were being accepted. After completing the marathon in under four hours, he “had all these blood blisters, so he went to the doctors, got them drained, and showed up at work the next day,” remembers Giannini.
Darryl’s ascent in the private equity world was equally methodical. After a successful stint at Schroder Wertheim & Co., he and Grant set out to raise a debut private equity fund in 1991. The private equity market was then in a slump and fund raising took an “inordinate amount of time,” remembers Grant. “But Darryl was very tenacious against overwhelming odds. That was a characteristic of his.”
Behrman Capital finally experienced a windfall when CalPERS, advised by Hamilton Lane, agreed to invest $50 million in the fund. Giannini says he was impressed with Darryl and Grant’s track record at Schroder Wertheim, and with his persistence and attention to detail.
Brian Murphy, a managing director at Portfolio Advisors, which invested in later Behrman Capital funds, says, “Darryl was a very focused guy and very deliberate. We had confidence that he was fair and honest, and would be working very hard to see that things were working with the investments. A lot of people will tell you how things went after the fact, but Darryl always made sure his L.P.s were in tune with what was going on.”
Behrman Capital’s first fund eventually raised $123 million. Thanks to the stellar performance of the debut vehicle, the second fund drew $518 million in 1998. Last May, amidst the private equity industry’s latest slump, Behrman Capital closed on $1.2 billion after setting out with a goal of $1 billion.
From the beginning, Darryl and Grant intended to build a firm that was much more than a boutique run by two brothers. “It was never about raising a fund, producing returns and then sitting on the beach,” says Grant. “We wanted to establish an enduring franchise in the private equity business and, 25 years after founding the firm, be able to look back and be proud not only of what we had done, but the manner in which we did it.”
For Darryl, the crux of building a world-class firm lay in the nurturing of professional talent among the employees. Giannini says he remembers being impressed early in the life of Behrman Capital upon hearing that Darryl had spent his entire weekend in the office going over performance reports of each employee. “He cared as much about the growth of the people at the firm as he did about the firm,” says Giannini.
Those individuals who didn’t get with Darryl’s program found themselves in a losing battle with a very determined man. “He could come off as being very stern,” says Murphy. “He demanded a lot of his partners and his staff and his portfolio companies, and wanted them to perform up to his expectations.”
“He was a nice, affable guy away from work, but at work he was a very intense guy,” remembers Meyer. “I wouldn’t want to be negotiating against Darryl. He wanted the best deal and he wanted it now.”
Darryl and Grant further institutionalized Behrman Capital by adding a San Francisco office and naming a third managing partner, Bill Matthes, to run it. While Darryl wanted his firm to thrive beyond the stewardship of its two namesake founders, he clearly enjoyed working with his sibling. In a March 2001 interview, he told PEC: “It’s like Grant and I are kids again playing in our sand pit. It’s wonderful to be able to travel with him and it’s wonderful to be able to share a lifetime of history with him, and that has. . . been reinforced over the 10 years that we’ve been fortunate enough to” manage Behrman Capital.
Darryl died of a heart attack while vacationing with his wife on the tranquil island of Anguilla. The adventure in this case was a romantic one – it was the week of Valentine’s Day. Word immediately began circulating through the private equity community of the loss, and Behrman Capital announced the news a few days later.“
He will be missed,” says Giannini. “Darryl was one of those unique individuals who has enormous drive as well as enormous integrity. He was an oddly charismatic person, but he was not flashy. He was just a very determined, persistent person that paid attention to the details and cared about everything.”
“At his funeral, I said that at age 51, it appeared that he had lived only half a life,” says Grant. “But those 51 years were packed with a tremendous amount of life. If you measure it like that, I think Darryl died at the ripe old age of 103.”
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