Centerview Hires Away Vestar Executive

Start-up consumer investment bank Centerview Partners has hired Vestar Capital Partners executive David Hooper to help build up its private equity business.

“It’s a unique opportunity that fits my background well,” says Hooper. “Probably it’s the entrepreneurial challenge [that drew me]. We’re building a team and a business.”

Hooper joins four other top executives at New York-based Centerview, formed in September. They are former Gillette CEO James Kilts, and a trio of former bankers: Blair Effron, who used to be Vice Chairman at UBS; Robert Pruzan, formerly chief executive officer of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein’s North American business and president of Wasserstein Perella & Co; and Stephen Crawford, former co-president of Morgan Stanley.

Hooper and Kilts are jointly heading up the private equity side of the business. As a managing director and the head of Vestar’s consumer group, Hooper worked on the purchase of Bird’s Eye Foods, a portfolio company that a source points to as a likely top performer for the Vestar IV fund. Other consumer brands bought in recent years by Vestar include Solo Cup and Michael Foods, though it’s not clear if Hooper worked on those deals.

Centerview plans to team up with other fund sponsors on deals where the firm can bring something to the table. One of its earliest transactions was a November investment in Dutch publishing giant VNU for an undisclosed amount. A team of LBO firms, AlpInvest Partners, The Blackstone Group, The Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and Thomas H. Lee Partners, acquired VNU in May 2006. Kilts secured a board seat on the company.

“If we can’t bring operational insight, we probably will not be involved in a multiparty investment,” says Hooper, who declined to comment on whether the firm plans to raise a fund for additional investments. Given his background and that of the other founders, he adds, “we can very quickly make a few phone calls into the industry and understand [an] opportunity and the quality of the management team either better or more quickly than some others.”

Kilts stepped down from Gillette in May after helping to engineer the $57 billion sale of the company to Procter & Gamble. It wasn’t the first splashy exit in his career: Kilts was also CEO of Nabisco when it sold to Philip Morris Cos. in 2000. During his tenures at Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, Kilts worked with fellow Centerview founders Effron and Pruzan on major deals —M.C.