Private equity execs raise money with a different kind of back-and-forth

A few dozen private equity executives traded their Excel spreadsheets for table-tennis rackets for a night earlier this month for a Manhattan charity tournament sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada. The second-annual contest sought to channel dealmakers’ competitive instincts to raise $ 235,000 for non-profits serving New York City children.

The field of 64 included staffers from Blackstone Group, KKR, Silver Lake Partners and other firms. None matched Ngoc Lu, the 50-year-old grandson of a Vietnamese billiards and table-tennis hall proprietor.

Lu began playing table tennis as a child in his native Vietnam, and persevered in practicing the sport after the North Vietnamese government that took control of the country after the war seized his grandfather’s business. At 13, he fled with his family to New York after his father, an officer in the South Vietnamese military, was sent to a reeducation camp.

There, Lu honed his table-tennis skills at the Bronx’s P.S. 33 elementary school before studying optical engineering at the University of Rochester and going to work on Wall Street.

He worked a stint at Credit Suisse before joining AEA Investors, whose investments include 1-800 Contacts and 24 Hour Fitness USA, where he serves as chief technology officer.

Now, the 50-year-old teaches keeps his skills sharp teaching his 17-year-old son how to play.

“If I’m teaching him I can’t lose to him,” he said. “He has a hard time with my serve.”

RBC banker Matthew Stopnik, who advises private equity firms, started the event after he joined the firm about two years ago, thinking it a fun alternative to charity dinners in midtown Manhattan hotel ballrooms. Buyout execs make headlines for their hefty paychecks and influence on American business, but they’re also fixtures in philanthropy in New York and elsewhere.

In addition to a silver trophy filled with ping-pong balls, Lu won $ 25,000 to direct to charities of his choice–reading-focused mentoring program Read Ahead, the New York Mentoring Program and Newark, NJ’s KIPP charter school.

RBC coordinates the rest of the event, raising about $ 210,000 from donations and team registrations for TEAK Fellowship, Harlem RBI, The Opportunity Network and Youth INC, which serve New York City children.

This article was published by WSJ MoneyBeat

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