KKR targets European debt expertise

John Empson has left JPMorgan and will join sponsor KKR to run its leveraged loan business in Europe.

He is the first European hire to the private equity giant’s capital market/capital raising team, where he will report to Craig Farr and Perry Golkin co–heads of the capital raising business and both based in New York. On a day to day basis the role will involve working closely with Johannes Huth’s European private equity deal team.

The hire is the first of its kind in Europe, where sponsors have traditionally recruited corporate finance bankers rather than capital markets experts. It highlights the extent to which sponsors are increasingly focused on the difficulty of accessing debt liquidity, the absence of which has effectively closed the market to the scale of deals sponsors have been raising funds to execute.

A sponsor source said: “Understanding where the debt market is, is a major issue at the moment, and this hire is about of taking a methodical approach to that going forward. John is someone who is consistently talking to everyone in the market.”

While the same source downplayed the disintermediation angle, stressing the need to work in partnership with banks, he said sponsors could have a role underwriting risk in some cases.

In Europe a string of recent deals have seen sponsors working directly with mezzanine investors to arrange subordinated debt, sponsors are also keen to tap non traditional debt sources, Sovereign Wealth Funds in particular, which bank arrangers have so far failed to bring into the leveraged investor base.

Empson is a veteran of the European leveraged finance market after more than 20 years at JPMorgan, where has was till now managing director and head of the firm’s European leveraged loan capital markets, reporting to Kristian Orssten.

Source: IFR