Citigroup unloads in-house buyout group

Citigroup has shuttered an internal buyout group called Citi Venture Capital, (CVC) laid off most of its staff and put up for sale its small portfolio.

Private Equity Insider

first reported the news last week and PE Week has since confirmed the details with multiple sources. Citi declined to comment.

In closing down CVC, Citi let go seven staffers, including three managing directors—Tony Bienstock, Alex Coleman and Joe Levy—who all came over from Park Avenue Equity. Longtime Citi executive and former Court Square Managing Partner Bill Comfort, who has served as CVC chairman, remains on board of the shuttered PE unit.

Comfort is said to be interested in putting in a bid for the group’s four-company portfolio, which is valued at about $150 million. The CVC portfolio includes of Texas drink phenomenon Big Red and high-end plastic dinnerware maker Waddington. If Comfort’s bid for the portfolio is competitive, then he’ll almost certainly win, according to a source familiar with the situation. Meanwhile, Citi has already opened discussions with direct secondary firms.

It is unclear if Comfort’s bid would be on behalf of Court Square, or if he’d help revive the CVC team to manage the portfolio.

CVC was launched last summer, shortly after Citi spun out an existing buyout business now known as Court Square Capital Partners. But there had been much speculation that CVC was beginning to look redundant since late last year when Citi paid an undisclosed price to gobble up Metalmark Capital, a mid-market buyout operation that spun off from Morgan Stanley. At the time of joining Citi, Metalmark was expected to raise a new $3 billion fund, with the New York bank supplying most of the capital.

Metalmark has grown to 30 employees, according to Citi documents. The acquisition of Metalmark was overseen by new Citi CEO Vikram Pandit, a longtime Morgan Stanley executive. In addition to Metalmark, Citi maintains hedge fund operations and two other private equity groups: Citi Private Equity, which makes mezzanine debt investments, and Citi Venture Capital International, which invests growth capital deals in the emerging markets of Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America.