Levin’s New Firm Nears Deals

Jerry Levin is known for turning around corporate train-wrecks, including Sunbeam and Revlon. Now he is planning to offer his expertise to private equity firms, through the formation of JW Levin Partners LLC.

Levin had been expected to retire after American Household (the holding company for the Sunbeam, Coleman and First Alert brands) was sold in January, but bailed after conversations with other retired CEOs. Of particular concern for the 61-year-old Levin was a recurring theme among the CEOs that once he stepped down he would no longer need a secretary, because no one would be calling.

That didn’t sit well with Levin, who pulled Steve Isko (former general counsel for Sunbeam) and Mike Topsen (former corporate development head at Sunbeam) together for a firm that is straddling the line between turnaround advisory and turnaround investment house.

JW Levin Partners will work with select private equity firms to identify troubled companies with recognizable consumer brands. It then will invest the partners’ personal money alongside a bigger nut from the private equity firm. Levin will then take over as the company’s interim CEO for between six to nine months.

He says that the typical portfolio company likely would need up to five years to be successfully righted (that’s how long it took for Sunbeam and Revlon), and that he will focus more on “baby boomer” brands than elderly, youth or ethnic brands.

The firm has looked at several potential deals, but has not yet pulled the trigger because the price tags were too high. It also has not yet decided against raising a small fund of its own, and actually has done a bit of pre-marketing.

“We’re still talking about possibly [raising a fund], but we have much more flexibility to pick and choose when it’s just our money,” Levin says.