DALLAS – A "rising star" recruited for her investment banking connections to help launch a Dallas private equity firm is being squeezed out of the company by her male partners, according to a lawsuit filed by co-founder Sarah Bradley.
Kainos Capital was turned into a "frat house," her lawsuit alleged, as her partners deceived and defrauded her of a 25 percent ownership stake in the firm that manages $1.3 billion in assets.
Bradley, a co-founder of the firm in 2012, asked the Delaware Court of Chancery to restore her 25 percent ownership stake. She also wants the money that she claims her partners withheld from her and paid to themselves.
That's likely to total in the millions, since Kainos' first two funds were generating more than $25 million a year in management and transaction fees, according to the lawsuit. Kainos has invested in more than a dozen companies, including such well-known brands as Ghirardelli, SlimFast and Swift & Co.
Bradley's suit names co-founders and partners Andrew Rosen and Robert Sperry, and chief financial officer David Knickel. It offers a rare glimpse into the money-fueled world of private equity, where partnership disputes are typically worked out in private.
Rosen recruited Bradley to help launch Kainos after he left Dallas-based Hicks Muse Tate & Furst following that firm's "scandal involving state pension funds, as well as significant investment losses," the suit said. He was a principal at Hicks Muse. Sperry and Knickel also formerly worked at Hicks Muse, which changed its name to HM Capital Partners in 2006.
In a statement, Kainos called the lawsuit a "regrettable filing" and said Bradley's "complaint lacks merit and its allegations are false."
"This is a financial dispute over something that happened nearly three years ago and Ms. Bradley has been well aware that her ownership was reduced," said the statement. The firm's partners said they intend "to defend ourselves vigorously in this matter."
Bradley, who contributed $1.5 million of her own money to start up the firm, said Rosen knew she was the major breadwinner for her family of six and exploited her need to protect her family's financial health as leverage to ensure that his control of Kainos went unquestioned.
The partners created a culture at Kainos that encouraged binge drinking in the name of being "part of the team," the lawsuit said.
Bradley has 20 years of investment banking experience, working previously at Deutsche Bank and Citigroup and with the Kainos team and other private equity firms on transactions in the food and consumer products industry. In 2015, she was recognized as one of private equity's top 15 women to watch.
Bradley's lawsuit said she was able to secure investments to get Kainos off the ground when the firm's initial funding fell through. Flush with more than $475 million to invest, the firm started to see early successes in the market. By 2016, Bradley said she helped the firm raise its second fund of $895 million, nearly double the first.
That's when Bradley claims her partners began shutting her out of decisionmaking and cutting off her access to accounting records. At the same time, the lawsuit said, Kainos' culture and atmosphere changed "into one of … general debauchery."