Gridiron Capital Scores $300M For Debut Fund

Firm: Gridiron Capital

Fund: Gridiron Capital Fund

Target: $250 million

Amount Raised: $300 million

Placement Agent: Knight Capital Partners

Law Firm: Ropes & Gray

Gridiron Capital has closed on a $300 million debut fund earmarked for buyouts and add-on deals in manufacturing, services and specialty consumer companies located in the United States and Canada. The firm surpassed its target of $250 million.

Thomas Burger, Donald Cihak and Eugene Conese, a trio that among them have both operating and transactional experience, co-founded the New Canaan, Conn.-based firm in 2005. Burger was previously a managing director at buyout shop RFE Investment Partners and lender Butler Capital Corp. Cihak, who previously worked with Burger at Butler Capital, was an operating partner at Saunders, Karp & Megrue, a middle-market buyout firm. Conese was president of Greenwich Air Services Inc. and before that president of Haskon Corp., a supplier of silicone rubber seals to the aerospace industry. The other managing director, Timothy Clark, was formerly a senior investment banker with Stifel Nicolaus.

The Gridiron team raised about $100 million before bringing on placement agent Knight Capital Partners in 2006 to raise the rest. The investor base includes a mix of funds of funds, investment banks, endowments, and wealthy investors; a number of them have signaled their willingness to co-invest on deals.

The firm seeks out companies generating EBITDA between $5 million and $25 million. It rarely participates in auctions, Conese said, and all three portfolio companies are products of “direct deal flow,” as were most of its add-ons. Through the fund the firm has completed three platform acquisitions and four add-on purchases.

One of its platforms is PAS Technologies, which conducts equipment repairs for aerospace and industrial companies. PAS was an orphaned business within aerospace giant Praxair, Conese said, and after its purchase Gridiron made operations more efficient, invested in product development and added to the management team. The firm knew the sector from Conese’s days heading Greenwich Air Services, which under his leadership became the world’s largest independent provider of repairs, overhauls and maintenance for gas turbine engines. Starting with a single facility and some 400 employees, the company went public in 1993 and was bought four years later by General Electric for $1.5 billion.

Through the fund Gridiron also owns McKenzie Sports Products, provider of taxidermy supplies for mounting hunting and fishing trophies; and Ramsey Industries, seller of telescopic cranes and winches. Outside of the fund, the firm owns Schutt Sports, a maker of football helmets; and Schutt Reconditioning, which recycles sports equipment.

Both Clark and Burger have sports backgrounds: Clark played professional baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, while Burger played football at Duke University. On the firm’s Web site, Burger is quoted as saying that “we believe in basic blocking and tackling, team-work, a common goal, executing a plan and winning in the trenches every day.”—M.C.