Private equity firms manage investment capital obtained from institutional investors or high net worth individuals (HNWI) to acquire equity ownership of companies through a variety of strategies, including leveraged buyouts and venture capital. Private equity firms operate with long-term investment horizons, typically five to seven years.

After obtaining an equity interest in a company, the private equity firm looks to eventually profit through either selling the company outright or through an initial public offering (IPO). When especially large investments are required, these firms often partner with other private equity firms to raise the necessary capital and to reduce their risk. Most firms specialize in one or more industries or investment strategies where they have particular expertise.

A report by Private Equity International (PEI) ranked the top 300 firms based on total private equity fundraising over the five-year period ending on April 1, 2019. We took the top 10 in that report and ranked them separately in terms of total assets under management (AUM) as of December 31, 2019. Readers should note that private equity assets under management (AUM) may be a subset of a company's total assets under management. We report private equity AUM in the list below where available.

Key Takeaways

  • Private equity is an alternative form of private financing, away from public markets, in which funds and investors directly invest in companies or engage in buyouts of such companies.
  • Private equity investments are typically available only to high net worth individuals.
  • Private equity can take on various forms, from complex leveraged buyouts to venture capital.
  • Private equity firms are typically ranked by their assets under management and success in returning gains to investors.

1) The Blackstone Group Inc.

Founded in 1985 and headquartered in New York, with offices in London, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Dubai, The Blackstone Group Inc. (BX) leads with $571 billion in total assets under management (AUM). The company invests across a broad range of market sectors, including energy, retail, and technology. While private equity ($183 billion) is its largest category of investments, Blackstone also has hundreds of billions of dollars in holdings in real estate, credit, and hedge fund solutions. Among its 94 portfolio companies are financial data provider Refinitiv, electric power transmission products company Gates Corp., and theme park operator Merlin Entertainments.

2) Neuberger Berman Group LLC

Neuberger Berman Group LLC has $356 billion in total AUM, including $89 billion in alternative investments, of which private equity is a part. Add in commitments, and the total for alternatives rises to $98 billion. Citing more than 30 years of experience in alternative investments, Neuberger Berman employs more than 160 professionals in the field in seven locations worldwide.

3) Apollo Global Management Inc.

Apollo Global Management Inc. (APO) has $331 billion in total AUM. Apollo was founded in 1990 by Leon Black, formerly of Drexel Burnham Lambert. The company is headquartered in New York, with other offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Its private equity unit has $77 billion in AUM, and "pursues many paths to value, including through opportunistic buyouts and build-ups, corporate carve-outs, and distressed investments, often going 'against the grain' of what other investors are doing."

4) The Carlyle Group Inc.

The Carlyle Group Inc. (CG) has total AUM of $224 billion, employs over 1,775 professionals worldwide and operates through 32 offices located in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. The company was founded in 1987 and is headquartered in Washington, DC. Its corporate private equity unit has AUM of $86 billion, and notable current holdings include Chesapeake Energy Corp., The Nature's Bounty Co., and Orion Breweries Ltd. of Japan.

5) KKR & Co. Inc.

KKR & Co. Inc. (KKR), formerly Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., has total AUM of $218 billion. Founded in 1976 and headquartered in New York, KKR is known for being one of the first firms to engage in large scale leveraged buyouts (LBOs), which are still one of the firm's specialties. Among the firm's noteworthy transactions are its 1989 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco and its 2007 buyout of TXU, the largest leveraged buyout on record. Among its current portfolio holdings are Fiserv Inc., Gardner Denver, Optiv, and PetVet.

6) Bain Capital LP

Bain Capital LP, founded in 1984 and headquartered in Boston, is one of the most widely recognized private equity firms worldwide. With $105 billion in total AUM, Bain has 19 offices globally, including London, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Melbourne. The firm currently manages approximately $65 billion in private equity assets. Its current portfolio includes Bob's Discount Furniture, Canada Goose, IQVIA, Michaels, NortonLifeLock, and US Renal Care.

7) CVC Capital Partners

CVC Capital Partners has nearly $81 billion of total AUM, but almost $135 billion of funds committed by investors. Founded in 1981, CVC employs over 525 people, including 250 investment professionals, in 24 offices worldwide. Its private equity division has over $55 billion of AUM. Its private equity portfolio includes 84 companies from across the globe.

8) Warburg Pincus LLC

Warburg Pincus LLC has over $58 billion in total AUM, invested in 190 companies, with particular exposure to China. The firm's roots are in E.M. Warburg & Co., founded in 1939, and Warburg Pincus was established in 1966. Headquartered in New York, it has 14 offices in 11 countries.

9) Vista Equity Partners

With over $52 billion in assets under management, Vista Equity Partners invests in software, data, and technology-enabled organizations, exclusively. The company has strategic investments across companies in healthcare, event ticketing, advertising and risk management, among other industries. In September of 2019, Vista closed a $16 billion technology fund, the largest fund ever raised by an independent PE firm.

10) EQT AB

Based in Sweden, EQT AB has total AUM of 41 billion euros, or nearly $45 billion at the current exchange rate. Founded in 1994, the firm has more than 700 employees in 15 countries across Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region. Flying Tiger Copenhagen is its best-known portfolio company among U.S. consumers.