For months, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld has been carrying around a pocketful of Leeds Equity Partners business cards while making his rounds as a general partner with the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery. Come January 1, however, the cards will read Leeds Weld & Co. as the man who would be governor of New York is moving up from his post as co-chairman of Leeds’ advisory board to take on a full-time general partner role.
While Weld is simply the latest in a long line of political stars who have recently begun lining up at the private equity trough, it appears that his particular participation is driven more by ideology than capital returns. Indeed, it was Leeds Equity Partners’ dedication to investing in the education and training sectors that brought him on board in the first place.
“Jeff [Leeds, co-founder and general partner with Leeds Equity Partners,] and I first met through a cousin of mine in New York? but what really brought us together was that we had come to the same view of the importance of private equity investment in education,” Weld said. “We came from different avenues though. Mine was political as I found myself reading polls showing that parents didn’t trust the monopoly model in education as much as they used to.”
Since that initial meeting, Weld has proven himself to be an integral member of the Leeds team – both because of his enhanced ability to source deals and his willingness to sit on the boards of portfolio companies like Edison Schools Inc., IDT Corp. and Ross University.
“When we first put together our advisory boards, our notion was that if we could assemble the best people who could give us 10% of their time, it would be better than getting 100% of someone else’s time,” said Jeff Leeds. “With Bill becoming a partner, we now get the best of both worlds.”
More Election Troubles?
One potential complication to this relationship, however, could be if Weld’s initial decision to leave Massachusetts for New York was predicated on a desire to run for elective office in the Granite State. Such a situation could prove difficult for the firm as chief executives are typically hesitant to sell off equity stakes to someone who may not be around for the long haul.
Weld downplayed such concerns by noting that he has not yet fulfilled the six-year residency requirement needed for the only job he has publicly expressed in – governor of New York. “If I do anything [in terms of running for elective office], it would be more like six years down the road,” he said.
For now, he will concentrate on finding enough relevant investments to help close out the $160 million Leeds Equity Partners III, which is expected to be around 80% full by year-end. He is also staying active in public discussions regarding issues of public education – including giving the keynote address today at an education-focused event organized by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – but his personal politics will not become Leeds Weld Co.’s dogma.
“I happen to believe in putting schools under some form of political control, but the firm itself is not getting near politics,” Weld said.
He added that he will resign from his current position at McDermott, Will & Emery, but that he will most likely retain some sort of advisory position with the firm. After January 1, he is also expected to pump some additional capital into the firm’s funding coffers, although it is unclear whether that will be in the existing vehicle or in a new offering.
As for any future personnel changes at Leeds Equity Partners, or Leeds Weld & Co., Jeff Leeds said that the firm will continue to “staff up,” although he would not specify if any other current advisory board members would soon be joining Weld as general partners. Among the potential candidates could be Lamar Alexander, former U.S. Secretary of Education and former Governor of Tennessee, Thomas (Mack) McLarty, former Chief of Staff for President Clinton and Richard Beattie, chairman of the executive committee of the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and former general counsel of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Dan Primack can be contacted at