The authors provide an overview of the main accomplishments of private equity since the emergence of leveraged buyouts in the 1980s, and of the challenges now facing the industry—challenges that have been encountered before during three major growth waves and two full boom-and-bust cycles. In so doing, the authors review a large and growing body of academic studies responding to questions like these:
(1) How have PE buyout companies performed relative to their public counterparts? And to the extent there have been improvements in operating performance and productivity gains, how have such gains been achieved? What role have PE firms played in this process?
(2) Especially in light of the large fees and profit shares paid to the PE firms, or GPs, and the significant “control” premiums over market paid to the selling companies, how have the returns to the LPs that provide the bulk of the funding for PE funds compared to the returns earned by the shareholders of comparable public companies?
(3) Apart from the high fees earned by its GPs, why is PE so controversial? Beyond their effects on productivity and benefits for investors, what are the employment and other social effects of buyouts and PE?
(4) What are the prospects for future PE returns to their LPs, especially in light of the volume of capital commitments and high purchase multiples that were being paid, at least until the onset of the COVID pandemic? And what role, if any, should PE activity be expected to play in the recovery from the pandemic?