May 16, 2022 - Economy

Private equity's big payday for factory workers

A KKR logo on a phone

A KKR logo on a phone. Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

KKR agreed to sell C.H.I. Overhead Doors, an Arthur, Ill.-based garage door maker, to Nucor Corp. (NYDE: NUE) for $3 billion.

Why it matters: C.H.I. isn't just a massive payout for KKR, which calls it one of the firm's "largest returns in recent history," but it's also life-changing for more than 600 C.H.I. factory workers, distribution center workers and truck drivers.

  • C.H.I. was among the 25 or so KKR portfolio companies, mostly industrials, in which non-salaried workers received equity as part of the original buyout (or could buy in for a nominal amount, if they made more than $100k annually).
  • The average C.H.I. hourly worker or driver will receive $175,000 via this sale, with some earning more than $400,000. And there's even cash for recent hires, with those joining in 2022 getting around $20k and those joining last year receiving $40,000.

Backstory: KKR had been planning to launch an auction for C.H.I., which it bought in 2015, but Nucor preempted the process. Nucor doesn't have an existing overhead door business, so C.H.I. management will remain and no layoffs are anticipated.

What they're saying: "This is a superior way to run a company ... not just stock ownership, but creating a real ownership culture," says Pete Stavros, KKR's co-head of Americas private equity, who notes that employee feedback had led to air conditioning in C.H.I.'s 1 million square foot factory and an on-site health clinic.

  • "Last Wednesday we told employees what was happening, and got to tell them about what they'd earned. It was the most rewarding moment of my career," Stavros added.
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