KKR Shakes Up First Data; IPO Ahead?

In changing the guard at one of its key portfolio companies, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. is raising market speculation that it is pursuing plans to take the asset, First Data Corp., public once again.

The New York buyout firm announced March 11 that it had hired Michael Capellas, the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest payment processor since KKR bought it in September 2007, to be a senior advisor at KKR focusing on technology. At the same time, the firm named Joe W. Forehand, now a senior advisor at KKR and a First Data director since September, to take Capellas’s duties at the portfolio company temporarily until a permanent replacement is found.

Capellas depicted the shakeup as a natural progression. “We have accomplished much of what we set out to do when we put together our initial three-year plan,” he told reporters on a conference call. Said Forehand: “We will be going about the process of finding the right long-term leader for the company.”

Some immediately took the moves as a sign that an IPO might be part of the plan, given Forehand’s role in the IPO of the technology consulting firm Accenture Ltd. in July 2001, one of the largest in U.S. history and the culmination of the tech firm’s contentious separation from the auditing firm Arthur Andersen. Forehand, however, downplayed that possibility. “We have no specific plans for an IPO in the near-term future,” he said on the call.

A First Data spokesman said the two executives were busy transitioning into their new roles and would not be available to speak for this report; KKR spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

David Fish, a senior analyst at the payments research firm Mercator Advisory Group Inc. of Waltham, Mass., said that rumors about the next First Data IPO taking place in 2010 have been circulating since less than a year after its acquisition by KKR.