Cerberus chief is forced into spotlight

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The Independent Online

The secretive private equity billionaire Stephen Feinberg was forced into the public spotlight yesterday, called to a Delaware courthouse to explain why his firm, Cerberus Capital, was trying to wriggle out of a buyout deal agreed earlier in the year.

Mr Feinberg has obsessively guarded his privacy even as Cerberus has acquired companies that now generate more than $120m in annual revenue, most notably the iconic American car maker Chrysler. But the judge turned down a request to switch off courtroom cameras during proceedings, which Mr Feinberg demanded to try to prevent pictures of him from emerging.

On the stand, he was asked to explain why Cerberus withdrew its $4bn (2bn) acquisition of United Rentals, the largest equipment rental company in the US, just days before the deal was due to close last month. United Rentals is suing to try to force the deal to go ahead at the $34.50-per-share price agreed in the spring, saying that the $100m break-fee is not enough to compensate for the collapse in the shares to their current level around $23.

Until yesterday, the most recent picture of Mr Feinberg in the public domain was one from around 2003, and he routinely turns down requests for interviews and public appearances. He has eschewed the conspicuous consumption of rival private equity bosses, and lives in relatively modest homes in Manhattan and Connecticut. At a private meeting with Cerberus investors earlier this year, he was reported to have said: "We try to hide religiously. If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him."

Mr Feinberg testified that he wasn't sure "of the legal definition of 'specific performance'", the contract clause that United Rentals claims tied Cerberus to the deal. He said the firm walked away because funding it became more costly after the credit crisis began.