NAMPA, Idaho & BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. (“THL”), a premier private equity firm investing in growth companies, announced today that it has acquired a majority interest in House of Design LLC (the “Company”), a leading provider of robotic automation systems and software for the residential construction market. THL’s investment will strengthen House of Design’s existing capabilities and provide capital and resources for future growth investments. House of Design’s co-founders will hold minority positions in the Company. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Founded in 2012 and based in Nampa, Idaho, House of Design is a leading provider of automated solutions for the building components and residential offsite construction industries. The Company designs and engineers robotic systems that increase component manufacturers’ production output and capacity while reducing the challenges of labor shortages. Proprietary software makes House of Design’s system the only fully automated system that can produce complex variable trusses and wall panels without robot retraining or resetting.
THL’s investment in House of Design will accelerate the Company’s ability to build upon its leading robotic technology and software platform and accelerate new product innovation for its customers.
“Our partnership with THL is a monumental milestone for the Company,” said Shane Dittrich and Ryan Okelberry, Co-Founders of House of Design. “THL brings the expertise and sophistication needed to reach the next stage in our Company’s growth, and we have a shared vision for how to get there. We are excited to partner with THL and leverage their deep automation expertise and financial and operational resources to fuel House of Design’s growth strategy.”
“We are thrilled to partner with the House of Design team,” said Mike Kaczmarek, Managing Director at THL. “Persistent labor scarcity in the construction industry is driving greater need for automated solutions, and House of Design’s offerings help address labor shortage and worker safety challenges while providing an attractive ROI to the customer. THL is excited to support House of Design in continuously growing and innovating its product offerings to help customers increase production throughput and revenue.”
Stifel acted as financial advisor, Kirkland & Ellis LLP acted as legal advisor and PwC acted as accounting and tax advisor to THL. PEAK Technology Partners, a San Francisco based investment bank, acted as the exclusive financial advisor and Stoel Rives acted as legal advisor to House of Design.
About House of Design
House of Design has established itself as a thought leader and premier provider of robotic solutions, dynamic software applications, and system integration services. Through a multitude of successful automation projects across varied industries, House of Design is recognized as an innovative, collaborative partner committed to the success of the clients it serves.
Founded in 2012 by two engineers, House of Design has grown to 100+ employees and one of the largest robotic integrators in the West. Over the last ten years House of Design has been recognized nationally for its innovation in the robotics industry and as a small business leader in Idaho. The company’s vision is to ensure that execution matches strategy, emerging opportunities are captured, and team members grow, prosper and their work changes the world.
For more information, please visit www.thehouseofdesign.com.
About Thomas H. Lee Partners
Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. (“THL”) is a premier private equity firm investing in middle market growth companies exclusively in three sectors: Financial Services, Healthcare and Technology & Business Solutions. THL couples deep sector expertise with dedicated internal operating resources to transform and build great companies of lasting value in partnership with management. The Firm’s domain expertise and resources help to build great companies with an aim to accelerate growth, improve operations and drive long-term sustainable value. Since 1974, THL has raised more than $30 billion of equity capital, invested in over 160 companies and completed more than 500 add-on acquisitions representing an aggregate enterprise value at acquisition of over $210 billion. THL invests in automation companies through its flagship private equity fund and a dedicated automation fund. For more information, please visit www.thl.com.
For years, start-ups, automakers and other companies have been slowly building chargers, mainly in California and other coastal states where most electric cars are sold. These businesses use different strategies to make money, and auto experts say it is not clear which will succeed. The company with the most stations, ChargePoint, sells chargers to individuals, workplaces, stores, condo and apartment buildings, and businesses with fleets of electric vehicles. It collects subscription fees for software that manages the chargers. Tesla offers charging mainly to get people to buy its cars. And others make money by selling electricity to drivers.
The Transition to Electric Cars
Once the poor cousin to the hip business of making sleek electric cars, the charging industry has been swept up in its own gold rush. Venture capital firms poured nearly $1 billion into charging companies last year, more than the five previous years combined, according to PitchBook. So far in 2021, venture capital investments are up to more than $550 million.
On Wall Street, publicly traded special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have struck deals to buy eight charging companies out of 26 deals involving electric vehicle and related businesses, according to Dealogic, a research firm. The deals typically include an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from big investors like BlackRock.
“It’s early, and folks are trying to wrap their heads around what does the potential look like,” said Gabe Daoud Jr., a managing director and analyst at Cowen, an investment bank.
These businesses could benefit from the infrastructure bill, but it is not clear how the Biden administration would distribute money for charging stations.
Another unanswered question is who will be the Exxon Mobil of the electric car age. It might well be automakers.
Tesla, which makes about two-thirds of the electric cars sold in the United States, has built thousands of chargers, which it made free for early customers. The company could open its network to vehicles made by other automakers by the end of the year, its chief executive, Elon Musk, said in July.
George Brian McGee, a finance executive in Florida, was driving home in a Tesla Model S operating on Autopilot, a system that can steer, brake and accelerate a car on its own, when he dropped his phone during a call and bent down to look for it.
Neither he nor Autopilot noticed that the road was ending and the Model S drove past a stop sign and a flashing red light. The car smashed into a parked Chevrolet Tahoe, killing a 22-year-old college student, Naibel Benavides.
One of a growing number of fatal accidents involving Tesla cars operating on Autopilot, Mr. McGee’s case is unusual because he survived and told investigators what had happened: He got distracted and put his trust in a system that did not see and brake for a parked car in front of it. Tesla drivers using Autopilot in other fatal accidents have often been killed, leaving investigators to piece together the details from data stored and videos recorded by the cars.
“I was driving and dropped my phone,” Mr. McGee told an officer who responded to the accident, according to a recording from a police body camera. “I looked down, and I ran the stop sign and hit the guy’s car.”
Distracted driving can be deadly in any car. But safety experts say Autopilot may encourage distraction by lulling people into thinking that their cars are more capable than they are. And the system does not include safeguards to make sure drivers are paying attention to the road and can retake control if something goes wrong.
Mr. McGee, who declined to comment through his lawyer, told investigators that he was on the phone with American Airlines making reservations to fly out for a funeral. He called the airline at 9:05 p.m. on April 25, 2019. The call lasted a little more than five minutes and ended two seconds after his Model S crashed into the Tahoe, according to a Florida Highway Patrol investigation. Florida law makes it illegal to text while driving, but the state does not prohibit drivers from talking on a hand-held cellphone except in school or work zones.
no vehicle on sale today is close to achieving.
Tesla’s critics contend that Autopilot has several weaknesses, including the ability for drivers like Mr. McGee to use it on local roads. With the help of GPS and software, G.M., Ford Motor and other automakers restrict their systems to divided highways where there are no stop signs, traffic lights or pedestrians.
Tesla owners’ manuals warn customers not to use Autopilot on city streets. “Failure to follow these instructions could cause damage, serious injury or death,” the manual for 2019 models says.
a California couple sued Tesla in connection with a 2019 crash that killed their 15-year-old son.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating more than two dozen crashes that occurred when Autopilot was in use. The agency said it was aware of at least 10 deaths in those accidents.
A Commute Ends in Tragedy
posted videos on YouTube showing that the camera sometimes fails to notice when drivers look away from the road and that it can be fooled if they cover the lens. When the camera notices a Tesla driver looking away from the road, it sounds a warning chime but does not turn Autopilot off.
G.M. and Ford systems use infrared cameras to monitor drivers’ eyes. If drivers look away for more than two or three seconds, warnings remind them to look straight ahead. If drivers fail to comply, the G.M. and Ford systems will shut off and tell drivers to take control of the car.
Ms. Benavides emigrated from Cuba in 2016 and lived with her mother in Miami. She worked at a Walgreens pharmacy and a clothing store while attending community college. An older sister, Neima, 34, who is executor of the estate, said Naibel had been working to improve her English in hopes of getting a college degree.
“She was always laughing and making people laugh,” Neima Benavides said. “Her favorite thing was to go to the beach. She would go almost every day and hang out with friends or just sit by herself and read.”
Neima Benavides said she hoped the lawsuit would prod Tesla into making Autopilot safer. “Maybe something can change so other people don’t have to go through this.”
Ms. Benavides had just started dating Mr. Angulo when they went fishing on Key Largo. That afternoon, she sent her sister a text message indicating she was having a good time. At 9 p.m., Ms. Benavides called her mother from Mr. Angulo’s phone to say she was on the way home. She had lost her phone that day.
On the 911 call, Mr. McGee reported that a man was on the ground, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth. Several times Mr. McGee said, “Oh, my God,” and shouted “Help!” When an emergency operator asked if the man was the only injured person, Mr. McGee replied, “Yes, he’s the only passenger.”
Mr. Angulo was airlifted to a hospital. He later told investigators that he had no recollection of the accident or why they had stopped at the intersection.
An emergency medical technician spotted a woman’s sandal under the Tahoe and called on others to start searching the area for another victim. “Please tell me no,” Mr. McGee can be heard saying in the police video. “Please tell me no.”
Ms. Benavides’s body was found about 25 yards away.
Also in late February, Blueacorn and Womply got an unexpected tailwind from a major rule change by the Small Business Administration, which oversaw the loan program. Concerned that women and minority-led businesses were being disproportionately left out, the Biden administration overhauled the loan formula to award sole proprietors — a group that includes contractors and gig workers — loans based on their reported revenue rather than profit. Overnight, millions more qualified for help. Drawn in by the marketing campaigns, they stampeded toward the two companies.
By early March, “we were overrun with demand,” said Blueacorn’s Mr. Calhoun, a private equity veteran who joined the company that month to help manage its growth. “We had a 24-hour period where we went from 15,000 new customer service tickets to 27,000,” he recalled. “Those are Amazon-like levels.”
Blueacorn rented call centers and trained hundreds of temporary workers to troubleshoot. Womply redeployed nearly all of its 200 employees to work on loan issues. Both companies still struggled to keep up. On Reddit groups and social media sites, thousands of borrowers complained about delays, poor communication and problems resolving errors.
Louis Glatthorn, an Uber driver in Boone, N.C., who goes by Bob, applied on Womply’s website on April 7 and signed the paperwork two weeks later for a $7,818 loan. But the money — which is listed in government records as approved — has not been paid by Benworth Capital, one of Womply’s partners. Mr. Glatthorn’s attempts to reach Womply for help have been unsuccessful.
“You can never talk to a person or actually make contact,” he said. A Womply representative declined to comment on Mr. Glatthorn’s experience.
Others had a smoother run. Dan Bourque, an Uber driver in San Francisco, saw Womply’s ads and applied for a loan in mid-April. Seventeen days later, he had a $10,477 deposit — funded by Fountainhead SBF, another of Womply’s partner lenders — in his bank account. For that loan, the process “was flawless,” he said.
The Money Pours In
The millions of tiny loans the two tech companies enabled, coupled with Congress’s decision to make small loans more lucrative, led to gigantic payouts for small lenders. Last year, Prestamos made $1.3 million for its lending. This year, it will collect nearly $1.2 billion, according to a New York Times calculation of lenders’ fees based on government data.
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
When Allegra Brochin and her boyfriend adopted Sprinkles, a feisty white Maltese, last year, they set about finding pet care.
“I immediately started looking,” said Ms. Brochin, 23, who works as a communications coordinator for Michael Kors in New York.
She saw ads for Bond Vet pop up on her Instagram feed, and when she took in Sprinkles for her shots, she was won over by the look and feel of the clinic, “especially when it’s for a pet you care about and feel responsible for,” she said.
Ms. Brochin is not alone in her devotion to her pandemic pet. More than 12.6 million households adopted animals from March to December of last year, according to the American Pet Products Association, helping to propel an increase in visits and revenue to veterinary offices, as new owners took pets in for their first checkup.
pet care business is riding a growth spurt: Morgan Stanley projected that it would be a $275 billion industry in 2030, up from $100 billion in 2019, with vet care the fastest-growing segment over the next decade.
“Ten years ago, there was a baby boom,” Arash Danialifar, chief executive of GD Realty Group, a California company that has leased space to a veterinary start-up, said about the proliferation of shops selling children’s fashion. “Now it’s all about pets.”
Small Door Veterinary recently announced it had raised $20 million and planned to go from a single location to 25 by 2025. The firm operates on a membership model, with 24/7 telemedicine and waiting areas with arched, white oak-paneled alcoves that give owners and their pets an intimate place to chill before appointments. Designed by Alda Ly Architecture, the clinics are rented storefronts of 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and cost about $1 million to kit out, said Josh Guttman, Small Door’s co-founder and chief executive.
Bond Vet, another New York start-up, models itself on CityMD clinics; it recently raised $17 million and now has six offices, including its first suburban location, in Garden City on Long Island.
Modern Animal, has an office in a high-end shopping district in West Hollywood, with three more to come in the city by year’s end and a dozen clinics in California by 2022, said the company’s founder and chief executive, Steven Eidelman.
new pet owners during the pandemic. Seventy-six percent of millennials own pets, according to a recent survey, and they are spending generously on their charges.
Terravet Real Estate Solutions, founded in 2016, now owns more than 100 buildings in 30 states, many of them housing practices owned by consolidators. For instance, Terravet owns the building housing CountryChase Veterinary Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and the American Veterinary Group, which operates practices across the South, owns the business.
Hound Properties, founded two years ago, has been buying buildings with an investor-backed fund. And Vetley Capital, started this year, has a portfolio of 20 buildings in nine states, most of them on the small side, ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and costing around $1 million, said Zach Goldman, the company’s founder and president.
The price of real estate has risen, but the returns are generally modest. “It’s the ultimate slow and steady income,” said Tripp Stewart, co-founder and chief executive of Hound Properties, who is also a practicing vet.
Despite the interest, there are obstacles to opening pet hospitals. Zoning sometimes limits their locations. In Pasadena, Calif., GD Realty had to request a zoning change for Modern Animal.
Because such businesses revolve around animal doctors, who are in demand as veterinary companies expand, there are shortages of vets in some parts of the country, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The improvements in vet facilities are thus aimed not only at pets and their owners, but also at the doctors themselves, who can choose where they want to work.
“It used to be that when you went to a vet, it was a family vet who worked out of a kitchen in an old house,” said Dr. Stewart. “Today, you’re not going to attract new young vets to an old house.”
LONDON — Disrupter, fixation, opportunity. The pandemic has been all that and more for jewelry fans and designers alike.
Just ask Sabine Roemer.
The German-born designer has two brands: the high jewelry line that carries her name (one-off pieces priced from 10,000 pounds, or about $14,095) and Atelier Romy, which sells trendy pieces like stackable chain necklaces and ear party studs online for £50 to £500.
And now that England is easing restrictions, she said, both lines are emerging as direct-to-consumer businesses — and are linked more closely to her own identity as a craftswoman.
“Workmanship is absolutely apparent in everything Sabine does,” said Marisa Drew, a senior investment banker in London who has jewelry from both of Ms. Roemer’s brands. “There’s always a personality in her pieces and she really approaches her designs with a story in mind.”
Ms. Drew said she likes Ms. Roemer’s transformable designs and strong attention to detail, features that also resonate with Sarah Giovanna, a managing director at a private equity firm in London.
“She sits down with you and really creates something that fits you. For me, it’s all about flexibility,” said Ms. Giovanna, who also wears both lines. “I work in a high-intensity environment, dealing with big businesses, and I want pieces that I can dress up and down. Both brands deliver that.”
Last year’s lockdown, however, was “a make-and-break moment,” Ms. Roemer said, especially for Atelier Romy, which was only three years old when the pandemic hit.
“I was forced to look at every single aspect of the business, and not just entrust it to others,” the 41-year-old designer said, admitting she had focused on creation and clients. Suddenly she couldn’t just help clients dream up high jewelry pieces like a pair of diamond and pearl earrings topped with 17-carat citrines or work on a philanthropic collaboration like the jeweled rendition of a postage stamp she created for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust in 2017 to celebrate the queen’s 65 years on the British throne.
In March 2020, Ms. Roemer canceled her shipping agent. She hadn’t been entirely happy with its service and decided fulfillment should be handled in-house. “I packed, I shipped and tied the ribbon around every box,” she said. “I needed to learn everything — my accountant joked that it was like McDonald’s, where you have to start in the kitchen and work your way up.” (A handwritten card now accompanies every order.)
Ms. Roemer and her team also focused on Atelier Romy’s social media presence, creating stronger digital content and visuals that highlighted Ms. Roemer as the maker behind the jewels. She wouldn’t share sales figures, but Ms. Roemer said shoppers must have liked the changes, as sales increased fivefold.
It’s the kind of online marketing that is here to stay, said Juliet Hutton-Squire, head of global strategy at Adorn, a jewelry market intelligence firm.
When consumers couldn’t spend on travel, she said, they began spending more on luxury items and investment pieces. Fashion brands were well positioned to capture those sales, thanks to their early investments in digital, and “brands with an online presence or shoppable content on social media were even further ahead of the curve as mobile phones became the way we shop,” Ms. Hutton-Squire explained. “That is just going to continue. We are not going back from this.”
In many ways, Ms. Roemer’s early career — which began as a 15-year-old goldsmith apprentice in Germany — led to her roles as a businesswoman and jeweler today.
Crafting jewelry, she said, is not all about “tools, craft and creation,” as she had once imagined. “You soon realized you also have to be good at physics and math, chemicals and chemistry. Thankfully, those were my favorite subjects at school.”
Atelier Romy has exercised her mathematical brain even more. “I love data,” she said. “I find it fascinating sitting at home in lockdown and just looking at data and who’s coming into the virtual shop.”
After graduating from Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School in Germany, Ms. Roemer joined Stephen Webster, a London designer she said she particularly admired as “a craftsperson and not just a designer.”
More work for other Bond Street houses followed, plus orders from private clients — turning the early 2000s into something of a golden era for Ms. Roemer’s high jewelry career. Her philanthropic work also was recognized, especially several custom pieces she made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, like a gold, diamond and emerald bangle inscribed with the South African president’s prison number; Morgan Freeman wore the piece to the 2010 Oscars as a best actor nominee for “Invictus.”
Ms. Roemer said the experience showed her how jewelry could be a form of storytelling. “The easy thing to do was put a bling diamond piece that gets attention, but I wanted to put Mandela’s story on the red carpet,” she said. “In the end, jewelry is emotional — you wear it every day on your skin. I don’t wear my grandmother’s handbag every day but I do wear her ring. It’s close to me, and really carries that emotional value.”
That same year, her first high jewelry collection debuted at Harrods.
Atelier Romy — a name inspired by the birth of Ms. Roemer’s first daughter, Romy — was created as an affordable ready-to-wear line to be sold exclusively online. “I wanted to portray something a bit different,” she recalled. “Something with strong bold designs but still modern and zeitlos” — German for ageless — “depending on how you’d layer and make it your own.”
Soul and purpose
Valery Demure, the London-based brand consultant who represents several independent jewelers (but not Ms. Roemer), said: “Sabine interests me because she doesn’t come from a jewelry family. Everything she’s learned has been through hard work by herself, and the fact that she has all these skills. She is a woman with a real soul and purpose.”
That sense is increasingly relevant in a post-pandemic world. Ms. Hutton-Squire said the pandemic’s “enforced pause button” highlighted the importance of sustainability and the environment, spurring jewelers to act online in more authentic ways. Whether that was creating, for example, a playlist for meditation or sharing home recipes, “it wasn’t all about sell, sell, sell,” she said. “That really kind of separated the authentic bands from the less authentic ones.”
That also explains the growing demand for craft — something Ms. Roemer said she had experienced prepandemic with some of her high jewelry line’s female clients. “They have a very different mind-set: asking who made it and what it is. It’s less about the stone, how big it is and the carat size,” Ms. Roemer said. “They just want to express themselves and their personalities through jewelry.”
She has been bringing the sentiment online. Atelier Romy now has weekly drops of “how to style” videos and footage of Ms. Roemer at the workbench, cutting, soldering and shaping metal, always among her most popular posts. “Few people really know how jewelry is still made,” she said. “It was nice to take people into the workshop and show them the process.”
In March, Ms. Roemer introduced Cornerstones, her first high jewelry collection in more than 10 years. The extra time in lockdown has been a creative boon, she said (“I always found the best pieces happen in the workshop when you don’t have a plan”) and the collection of nine pairs of earrings were muses on travel, with multifunctional pieces like sea-inspired blue topaz, aquamarine and diamond transformable earrings that Ms. Drew purchased.
Ms. Roemer said she hopes to resume meeting clients from both brands, which, thanks to the pandemic, feel more complementary than ever. “It’s like having two babies — you can’t pick a favorite one, they’re equally important,” she said. “But also very different.”
give up day-to-day duties at the private equity giant, after clashing with his fellow founders over the departure of Leon Black as the firm’s chief executive.
The departure of Mr. Harris, 56, comes months after he argued that Mr. Black should step down immediately following Apollo’s investigation into his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and registered sex offender. Mr. Harris was overruled by the other two members of Apollo’s executive committee, the firm’s other founders, Mr. Black and Marc Rowan.
Mr. Harris served as one of Apollo’s most visible and hands-on managers, but instead of succeeding Mr. Black as chief executive, he lost out to Mr. Rowan, who had announced last year that he was taking a “semi-sabbatical” from the firm.
In March, however, Mr. Black — who had agreed to step down as chief executive in July, while remaining chairman — unexpectedly gave up all his duties. Mr. Black, at the time, cited health reasons and continuing media coverage of his dealings with Mr. Epstein.
But by then, Mr. Harris was seen as having less of a leadership role at the firm. It was Mr. Rowan who engineered Apollo’s takeover of Athene, a big insurance and lending affiliate that is expected to bolster the firm’s investing power.
Mr. Harris was not on Apollo’s quarterly earnings call with analysts earlier this month, an absence noted by a participant on the call, which fueled speculation that his role at Apollo had diminished since Mr. Rowan’s ascension.
Mr. Harris had wanted Mr. Black to make a complete break with Apollo after a law firm hired by Apollo’s board had found Mr. Black paid $158 million in fees to Mr. Epstein and lent him another $30 million in recent years. Mr. Harris was concerned that institutional investors in Apollo funds might be troubled by the law firm’s findings, even though the report concluded Mr. Black had paid Mr. Epstein for legitimate tax planning advice and had done nothing improper.
Apollo’s stock, which had lagged its competitors while the law firm investigated the matter, has risen about 20 percent since Mr. Black said he was resigning as chairman.
The board of Apollo hired the outside law firm to conduct review following a report in October in The New York Times of Mr. Black’s business and social dealings with Mr. Epstein, who died in federal custody in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Mr. Harris will officially step down after Apollo completes the Athene deal, which is expected to be completed early next year. He will remain a member of the firm’s board and its executive committee. Mr. Harris, like Mr. Black, is one of Apollo’s largest shareholders.
He is expected to focus on an array of other business interests, including his co-ownership of several professional sports franchises — including the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team — and his family office. He is also expected to focus more on philanthropy.
“I have become increasingly involved in these areas and knew that one day they would become my primary pursuit,” Mr. Harris wrote in an internal memorandum reviewed by The Times.
Mr. Harris, whose net worth is estimated at just of $5 billion, recently bought a $32 million mansion in Miami.
Stocks on Wall Street edged higher on Thursday, rebounding slightly from three consecutive days of selling.
The S&P 500 rose 0.3 percent in early trading. The index had dropped 1.4 percent through the close on Wednesday, after falling by the same amount the week before.
Concerns about rapid economic growth fueling inflation, as well as rising coronavirus cases in some parts of the world, have undermined recent optimism about the global economic recovery from the pandemic.
On Wednesday, minutes of the latest Federal Reserve policy meeting showed several officials thought that “at some point in upcoming meetings” they could begin to discuss tapering the bank’s bond-buying program. Investors have speculated the central bank would have to do so as price increases accelerated. The same day, data showed Britain’s annual inflation rate doubled to 1.5 percent in April.
European stock indexes were higher on Thursday. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.8 percent as gains in health care and industrial stocks outweighed a fall in energy company shares. The FTSE 100 in Britain rose about half a percent.
Bitcoin was trading just below $40,000 on Thursday morning after a volatile day on Wednesday when the price plunged to below $32,000.
Ethereum, another major cryptocurrency, also recovered some of its losses from Wednesday, when it fell about 20 percent.
Elsewhere in markets
Oatly, the oat-based milk substitute, priced its shares at $17 each for its initial public offering, the company said on Wednesday, valuing it at about $10 billion. Oatly is expected to begin trading on Thursday with the ticker symbol “OTLY.”
Oil prices dropped. Futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fell half a percent to $63.02 a barrel.
Initial claims for state jobless benefits fell again last week, continuing a fairly steady decline since the start of the year, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The weekly figure was slightly under 455,000, a decline of 37,000 from the previous week and the lowest weekly total since before the pandemic. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 95,000. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.
New state claims remain high by historical levels but are less than half the level recorded as recently as early January. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as business return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.
More than 20 Republican-led states have said they will abandon federally funded emergency benefit programs in June or early July, saying the income is deterring recipients from seeking work as some employers complain of trouble filling jobs. Those programs include not only Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but also extended benefits for the long-term unemployed.
— Kevin McKenna
Ford unveiled an electric version of its popular F-150 pickup truck on Wednesday called the Lightning, signaling a shift in the auto industry’s electric vehicle push, which so far has been aimed at niche markets.
With an electric motor mounted on each of its axles, the vehicle will offer more torque — in effect, faster acceleration — than any previous F-150 and will be capable of towing up to 10,000 pounds, Neal E. Boudette reports for The New York Times. Its battery pack can put out 9.6 kilowatts of energy, making it able to power a home for about three days during an outage, according to Ford.
For contractors and other commercial truck users, the Lightning will be able to power electric saws, tools and lighting, potentially replacing or reducing the need for generators at work sites. It has up to 11 power outlets.
The truck is expected to go on sale next spring, with a starting price of $39,974 for a model that can travel 230 miles on a full charge. A version with a range of 300 miles starts at $59,974.
The truck’s base price is a few thousand dollars less than that of a Tesla Model 3 and even that of the company’s own Mustang Mach-E sport-utility vehicle. The total cost is lower still because buyers of Ford’s electric vehicles still qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit available for the purchase of E.V.s. Some states such as California, New Jersey and New York offer additional rebates worth as much as $5,000.
The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain furloughed its 3,100 employees during the pandemic, declared bankruptcy in December, shut down three theaters as part of its restructuring plan and halted a planned project in Orlando. AMC Entertainment’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said this month that the chain had been “within months or weeks of running out of cash five different times between April 2020 and January 2021.”
Now, theaters are trying to assure people that the troubles are over, Nicole Sperling reports for The New York Times. That movies are coming back, with a vengeance, and moviegoing should soon return to normal.
“It’s magic, what we do,” Tim League, Alamo’s founder, said in a phone interview. He acknowledged that his company got dangerously close to running out of money in December before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “We’re in the business of creating the best possible viewing experience — to get lost in an amazing story and have heightened emotions around it. It’s amazing when it’s done right, and we’re in the business of doing it right. I know that people are craving a return to any kind of out-of-home experience, being with people and having a sense of rejoining the community.”
Some 70 percent of moviegoers are comfortable to returning to the theater, according to the exhibition research firm National Research Group. The box office for April hit $190 million, up 300 percent since February. That’s a welcome relief to the South African director Neill Blomkamp, whose new horror film “Demonic” from the indie outfit IFC will debut only in theaters at the end of August.
“This brings me joy,” he said in a video message. “I want people to be terrified in a darkened theater.”
Vegan milk is now a multibillion-dollar business on Wall Street. Oatly, the oat milk maker, priced its I.P.O. at $17 a share, the top end of its range, valuing it at about $10 billion. Part of the reason it appeared to avoid broader market declines is that it courted investors focused on so-called E.S.G. principles.
Whatever you think about crypto, you’re right
Even by Bitcoin’s standards, it’s been a wild week. A particularly steep drop in the cryptocurrency yesterday seemed to drag the entire market down with it, and the frenzy led to outages at big exchanges like Binance and Coinbase. Then, it came roaring back in late trading (Elon Musk tweeted about it) and has held the gains so far today. Still, Bitcoin is down by about a third from the all-time high it set just over a week ago.
The episode proves the point of skeptics that digital assets are too volatile to be taken seriously, and of die-hard supporters who say that the ups and downs come with the territory. DealBook spoke with Changpeng “C.Z.” Zhao, the C.E.O. of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, about what it all means.
Today in Business
“It was a busy day but it happens,” C.Z. said. “I think it’s pretty typical.” It’s a commonly held belief among the crypto crowd that big corrections are part of the journey to new heights. “If you look at 2017, where there was a bull market, there were at least two instances of 40 percent drawdowns,” he said. New investors rushing in “may or may not be fully committed” but he believes it’s good for the markets to “shake out” the jittery types.
Lawmakers aren’t so sure. Yesterday, the Senate Banking Committee chair, Sherrod Brown — a crypto skeptic — wrote to the acting Comptroller of the Currency, Michael Hsu, with concerns about crypto companies getting approved for national trust charters. In particular, Brown mentioned that the approvals came under the former acting comptroller, Brian Brooks, who once worked for Coinbase and recently became the C.E.O. of Binance’s U.S. division.
“Given the many uncertainties present in the digital asset landscape as identified by other regulators, the volatility of digital asset valuations, and the disproportionate influence individuals can have on entire cryptocurrency markets, the O.C.C. is not in a position to regulate these entities comparably to traditional banks,” Brown wrote.
All eyes are on the regulators. One factor in yesterday’s crash appeared to be a warning from China’s central bank that reiterated the ban on financial institutions in the country dealing in cryptocurrencies. Many of the crypto market’s ups and downs come amid questions about regulation driving mainstream acceptance (or not), as when the launch of a Bitcoin futures exchange in 2017 accompanied the last big run-up in crypto prices.
The next milestone, perhaps, is whether the S.E.C. will approve proposals for a Bitcoin E.T.F., which it will likely decide by the end of the year. Crypto’s champion at the S.E.C., commissioner Hester Peirce, last week responded to her colleagues’ qualms about Bitcoin by saying she hopes American investors will “finally” have access to crypto-based securities, so it’s clear where she stands.
“It was the right thing to do for the country.”
— Joseph Blount, the C.E.O. of Colonial Pipeline, in his first public interview about paying a ransom to hackers after a cyberattack crippled its systems. Colonial paid in Bitcoin worth $4.4 million, but the decryption tool it received in return didn’t immediately work, and the pipeline was shut for six days.
Private equity has a place at the table, and so do Oprah and Jay-Z. Food giants like Nestlé are scrambling to get a foot in the door. There are implications for the climate. There are even geopolitical rumblings.
The unlikely focus of this excitement is Oatly, producer of a milk substitute made from oats that can be poured on cereal or foamed for a cappuccino. Oatly, a Swedish company, will sell shares to the public for the first time this week in an offering that could value it at $10 billion and exemplify the changes in consumer preferences that are reshaping the food business.
It’s no longer enough for food to taste good and be healthy. More people want to make sure that their ketchup, cookies or mac and cheese are not helping to melt the polar ice caps. Food production is a leading contributor to climate change, especially when animals are involved. (Cows belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas.) Milk substitutes made from soybeans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, hemp, rice and oats have proliferated in response to soaring demand.
“We have a bold vision for a food system that’s better for people and the planet,” Oatly declared in its prospectus for the offering. The company’s shares are expected to start trading in New York on May 20.
Stephen A. Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chief executive, was a steadfast supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, who has maintained that climate change is a hoax.
Blackstone’s backing also helped lend Oatly credibility on Wall Street. And there was no sign that Blackstone’s involvement slowed Oatly sales, which doubled last year.
Oatly’s image benefited from a roster of celebrity investors, including Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company, and Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks. All have some connection to the plant-based or healthy living movement.
Oatly declined to comment, citing regulations that restrict public statements ahead of an initial public offering.
Oat milk is part of a larger trend toward food that mimics animal products. So-called food tech companies like Beyond Meat have raised a little more than $18 billion in venture funding, according to PitchBook, which tracks the industry. Plant-based dairy, which in the United States includes brands like Ripple (made from peas) and Moalla (bananas), raised $640 million last year, more than double the amount raised a year earlier.
In the United States, milk substitutes like oat milk and rice milk make up a $2.5 billion industry that is expected to grow to $3.6 billion by 2025, according to Euromonitor. Globally, the $9.5 billion industry is expected to grow to $11 billion.
Once a niche market, alternate milk has become as American as baseball. A frozen version of Oatly that mimics soft-serve ice cream is being sold this season at Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, where the Rangers play.
China Resources, a state-owned conglomerate with vast holdings in cement, power generation, coal mining, beer, retailing and many other industries. The new financing helped Oatly to expand in Europe and begin exporting to the United States and China, where many people cannot tolerate cow’s milk. China Resources’ involvement undoubtedly helped open doors in the Chinese market. Asia, primarily China, accounted for 18 percent of sales in the first quarter of 2021, and is growing at a rate of 450 percent a year, according to Oatly.
In Europe, there is growing alarm about Chinese investment in strategic industries like autos, batteries and robotics. The European Commission has begun erecting regulatory barriers to companies with financial links to the Chinese government. But so far no one has expressed fear that China will dominate the world’s supply of oat milk.
Just in case, Oatly’s prospectus gives it the option of listing in Hong Kong if the foreign ownership becomes a problem in the United States.
The potential of the market for dairy alternatives is not lost on big food producers. Oatly acknowledged in its offering documents that it faces fierce competition, including from “multinational corporations with substantially greater resources and operations than us.”
That would include British consumer goods maker Unilever, which said last year that it aims to generate revenue of one billion euros, or $1.2 billion, by 2027 from plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy, for example Hellmann’s vegan mayonnaise or Ben & Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream. Unilever has not announced plans for a milk substitute.
dairy alternatives are a poor substitute for cow’s milk because they don’t have nearly as much protein.
Stefan Palzer, the chief technology officer at Nestlé, took issue with those who say a big company can’t move as fast as a bunch of Swedish foodies. A young team at Nestlé developed Wunda in nine months, including three months of market testing in Britain, Mr. Palzer said in an interview.
substitutes for almost any kind of animal product. The next frontier: fish. Nestlé has begun selling a tuna substitute called Vuna and is working on scallops.
“It’s a great opportunity to combine health with sustainability,” Mr. Palzer said of plant-based alternatives to milk and meat. “It’s also a great growth opportunity.”