F. Warren Hellman, the banjo-wielding private equity pioneer who brought the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival to San Francisco a decade ago, was remembered by co-workers and friends equally for his work in his professional and personal life.
Mr. Hellman, a co-founder of private equity firm Hellman & Friedman and former president of Lehman Brothers, died Dec. 18 from complications of leukemia. He was 77.
Mr. Hellman started Hellman & Friedman in 1984 with Tully Friedman and raised more than $25 billion in committed capital since the firm's inception.
“We have been blessed with an amazing founder. Warren has been an inspiration to all of us and set the standard by which we strive to live our personal and professional lives,” Philip Hammarskjold, Hellman & Friedman CEO, said in a statement on the company's website.
“Warren taught us not only to be better investors, but to be better people,” Mr. Hammarskjold said. “He always set his own course and did things in his own way. He wanted to build an investment firm dedicated to serving its limited partners and the businesses in which we invest. We have all benefited greatly from his vision, generosity and leadership.”
“The members of the Private Equity Growth Capital Council are saddened by the news of Warren Hellman's passing,” Steve Judge, interim president and CEO of the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, said in an e-mailed statement. “Warren Hellman was not only a pioneer and a leader in the private equity industry, he was an incredibly generous individual committed to bettering the lives of people through his many civic and philanthropic endeavors.”
Mr. Hellman got his start at Lehman Brothers in 1959 after graduating from Harvard Business School. At 26, he became the youngest partner in the firm's history. He was named president in 1973, a role he served until 1977 when he moved to Boston and co-founded Hellman Ferri Investment Associates, which became Matrix Partners, one of the early firms in the venture capital industry.
Mr. Hellman was at Matrix when the firm became an early investor in notable start-up technology companies such as Apollo Computer, Stratus Computer, Continental Cable (now Comcast) and Apple Computer.
He also co-founded Hellman, Jordan Management Co. in Boston, a specialty equity investment manager, before moving west and starting Hellman & Friedman.
Mr. Hellman was equally revered for his philanthropic efforts, mainly in the San Francisco area. A banjo player and lover of bluegrass music, he was the founder and principal sponsor of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, a three-day free event started in 2001 that now draws more than 750,000 attendees a year. The site of the festival was renamed from Speedway Meadow to “Hellman's Hollow” on Dec. 15 by the San Francisco Park and Recreation Commission.
Mr. Hellman was a past chairman and trustee emeritus of the San Francisco Foundation and was a well-known contributor to St. Anthony's Foundation, Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Free Clinic, founded by his daughter and son-in-law. In 2009, The Hellman Family Foundation provided a $5 million gift as initial seed money for what would become The Bay Citizen, a non-profit local news organization.
“Warren was a great mentor, partner and friend, and above all, a great man,” said Brian Powers, chairman of Hellman & Friedman, in the company's statement. “He will be deeply missed. His commitment to civic and philanthropic activities and his extraordinary generosity to the many causes he supported will have a lasting impact on our community.”
Mr. Hellman was also an accomplished endurance athlete. He twice completed the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile foot race, and five times completed the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile horse race. He was also a five-time national champion in ride and tie (a combination of cross-country running and endurance horseback riding) in his age group.
Mr. Hellman is survived by his wife, Chris; four children; 12 grandchildren; and a great grandchild.
The family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free Clinic, The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco School Alliance. A memorial service was held on Dec. 21 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.