The reclusive Feinberg is the founder of Cerberus Capital Management, the hedge fund and private equity firm with $28 billion under management. He's best known for engineering unsuccessful 2007 takeover of Chrysler, and is rumored to be worth over 1 billion dollars.
Raised in Spring Valley, NY—his dad was a steel salesman, his mother died when he was a sophomore at Princeton—Feinberg joined the ROTC and played on the tennis team before landing at Drexel Burnham Lambert in 1982. Feinberg worked at Mike Milken's bond house during its heyday; when the firm crumbled amid scandal, he moved to Gruntal & Co. where he worked on the same floor with fellow future billionaire Steve Cohen. In 1992, at the age of 32, Feinberg founded Cerberus with Bill Richter, starting off with a modest $10 million under management. During its first decade in business, the firm kept a fairly low profile as it focused on snapping up distressed debt in troubled companies. Cerberus later turned to taking majority control in struggling companies that could be restructured and rehabilitated. It's since become one of the most active and aggressive players on the takeover scene, with more than $28 billion under management, a long list of high-profile investors (Michael Steinhardt and Michael Dell), and dozens of high-powered execs and political power brokers on the company payroll. Feinberg brokered his most high-profile (and riskiest) deal in May 2007 when Cerberus acquired a majority stake in Chrysler.
Named after the fearsome three-headed dog in Greek mythology who guarded the entrance to Hades, Cerberus has at least as many heads, acting like a hedge fund, private equity shop, and investment bank rolled into one. The firm has gobbled up stakes in an array of businesses in recent years, from grocery-store chains (Albertsons) to car rental agencies (Alamo, National) to fast food (Burger King) to airlines (Air Canada); with more than 50 companies in the Cerberus portfolio-with combined revenue of more than $120 billion-it is now one of the most formidable private equity firms around.
But while Feinberg has had his share of failures (Anchor Glass, Mervyn's) and occasionally loses out on deals (as was the case with Refco which was snapped up by Man Financial), Feinberg's riskiest gambles took place just before the credit meltdown when Cerberus, like so many of its rivals, set out on a buying spree. After snapping up a majority stake in General Motors's financing division, GMAC, in 2006, Cerberus purchased Chrysler from Daimler-Chrysler for $7.4 billion, unwinding the 1998 takeover of the American automaker by Daimler-Benz. Within months of closing the deal, the transaction had already been chalked up by analysts as a costly mistake; and despite Feinberg's efforts to right the ship, Chrysler was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 after an intervention by the Obama administration.
Feinberg has very close ties to the Republican machine-former veep Dan Quayle and former Treasury Secretary John Snow both serve as co-chairmen of the firm, and Donald Rumsfeld is an investor in Cerberus. A major GOP political donor, Feinberg has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes over the past few years.
Feinberg and his wife, Gisela, have three daughters; their eldest, Lindsey, is a college student. Feinberg and family divide their time between a townhouse on East 67th Street, which he purchased for $19.75 million in 2003, and a 2,500-square-foot home in Stamford that he purchased in 1991 for around $500,000. The townhouse, which previously served as the Egyptian mission to the U.N., features a movie theater, sauna, and roof garden. He sold his previous apartment, a co-op on East 79th Street, for $9.1 million.