David Bonderman, a founding partner of private equity firm TPG, is being honored as the 2023 Fort Worth Business Executive of the Year.
Though he co-founded TPG, helped the Bass family build its fortune and is one of the best known figures in private equity, Bonderman has maintained a relatively low profile, particularly in his adopted hometown of Fort Worth. But now, being honored with the award, presented by Texas Wesleyan University, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Worth Business Press, the 80-year-old Bonderman took some time out to talk about his career and answer questions from students at the college.
Bonderman told students he chooses the deals he now makes by how interested he is in something.
“I have a lot of balls in the air all the time,” he said. “I do my best to manage my time. But basically, if I am seduced by it, if it’s interesting to me.”
Asked by a student to name the most critical skill a college student should develop, Bonderman said to “teach yourself to make good decisions.”
“Everybody makes bad decisions sometimes,” he said. “But think about what you’re doing. Don’t let the small stuff get in your way. One of the things we’ve learned is that a lot of the investment business people get so tangled up in the details, they forget the major points. And you don’t want to do that.”
Bonderman made his name and fortune acquiring undervalued companies and turning them around. Over his career, he or his company have bought and sold companies ranging from Continental Airlines to Petco to J. Crew. His lifetime of investing has made him a billionaire, with Forbes estimating his wealth at $5.7 billion.
A 1966 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Bonderman was a member of the Harvard Law Review and a Sheldon Fellow. Bonderman moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as an assistant in the Justice Department’s civil rights division for a year before joining the Arnold & Porter law firm. There, he became known for his work on complex cases, including the 1982 bankruptcy reorganization of Braniff International Airlines. That presaged a long involvement in the airline industry, including Continental Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Ryanair.
In 1985, Bonderman got involved with a citizens’ group in Fort Worth that fought against a proposed federal highway plan, which, they argued, would damage the southern edge of downtown. Bonderman prevailed and was subsequently convinced by several members of the Bass family to come work for them in Fort Worth.
Bonderman eventually became chief operating officer of the Robert M. Bass Group Inc., now known as Oak Hill Capital.
In 1992, Bonderman and another Bass executive, Jim Coulter, left to form the groundbreaking private equity firm Texas Pacific Group, which is based in both Fort Worth and San Francisco. Their first big deal was a $66 million investment in the then struggling Continental Airlines. The investment eventually gave the company a $640 million profit.
Not all TPG’s investments turned a profit. The firm, along with InterWest Partners, acquired a caramel and marshmallow business from Kraft in 1995, but sold it after the company’s fortunes became less than sweet.
“We wound up with a lot of extra marshmallows,” Bonderman told the Texas Wesleyan students.
Bonderman and Coulter are still involved in TPG, but have turned over day-to-day management of the company. TPG went public in 2022 and now has $120 billion in assets under management and offices around the world.
Bonderman serves on a number of public and private boards, some of which include Allogene Therapeutics Inc., Boston Championship Basketball LLC, Seattle Hockey Partners, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation and The Rise Fund.
The Rise Fund is TPG’s impact investment fund that aims to both make money and create a positive social dividend. Among the board members are U2’s Bono and Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of The Virgin Group.
On the philanthropic side, Bonderman serves on the boards of the American Himalayan Foundation, The Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, Wyss Foundation and funds the Wildcat Foundation. The Wildcat Foundation focuses on anti-poaching and wildlife conservation efforts in Africa.
If You Want To Go
David Bonderman will be honored at the 53rd Fort Worth Business Hall of Fame event at 6 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Fort Worth Club.
Tickets to the Business Hall of Fame event are $300 per person.
To make reservations and purchase tickets, contact Amy Tate-Almy at 817-531-5806 or at txwes.edu/bhof.
The reception begins at 6 p.m. and the dinner is at 7 p.m. Dress is business attire and tickets are open to the public.
The event supports the Thomas H. Law Scholarship program, which benefits business students at Texas Wesleyan.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.