In what appears to be a top ten moment in the history of accidental trolling, Institutional Investor provided Henry Kravis with an opportunity to offer a genuine moment of introspection into his storied business career.
It got exactly what it deserved.
At the end of a video interview that has Kravis playing cards with an II editor at a simple wood table in a white loft space (classic Kravis), after Henry has told a few war stories about how he launched and empowered KKR (highlight: "When there's a big wall, you go through that wall"), the interviewer leans forward and asks:
"The cardinal sin is making the same mistake twice...Is there an incident in your business life in which you've made the same mistake twice?"
A good question. A fun question. A question that invites the questioned to take a look at themselves...which is why this question is not right for Henry Kravis.
"Y'know, if I look back and I say "okay," we might have been too slow in changing out some CEOs of companies we had. Keep thinking that he or she will get a lot better. And I can pretty well tell you that what you see up front is pretty much what you're going to see in the end. You can help 'em around the edges...but [people] don't change that much. Waiting is a lost opportunity. And we used to wait. And we didn't do it just once, we did it a number of times. Because we kept thinking, "OK it's not the right time, we don't have the right person." I think today we move much faster than we ever did."
Henry Kravis regrets not firing people fast enough because he's Henry Kravis and Henry Kravis does not fuck around. The man invented the modern bloody world of private equity. He's finance's answer to MacBeth and his wife...in one man. Henry Kravis doesn't clean the blood from his collar, he buys a new shirt. You want Henry Kravis to take emotional inventory? Well this is what he has in the warehouse.
The answer is so honest, so real and so "on brand" that one cannot help but stare in awe. But one person who does not share our response is the interviewer, who attempts to cauterize the moment by offering "So, inaction is the mistake that was repeated..."
To which Kravis responds "Yes, exactly."
And to which we say, "Yuh, OK, sure."
How Henry Kravis Raised KKR's First Dollar [Institutional Investor]