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Leon Black leaving helm of Apollo amid Jeffrey Epstein controversy
Leon Black may have maneuvered to enhance his clout on the board of Apollo Global Management ahead of a surprise Jan. 25 announcement that he was stepping down as CEO amid controversy over his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, The Post has learned.
In a series of moves that are only now being questioned by some within the company, according to sources close to the situation, Black on Jan. 22 presented a plan to increase the size of Apollo’s board from seven to 13, including four new directors whose appointments were to be effective March 1.
In addition to Apollo co-presidents Scott Kleinman and Jim Zelter, the company also added to the board independent directors Siddhartha Mukherjee and Pam Joyner.
But Mukherjee, a world-renowned physician and scientist, has ties to Black through his artist wife Sarah Sze, according to sources and public documents reviewed by The Post. Likewise, Joyner has a documented history with Black stretching back nearly two decades, including as fellow trustees of their alma mater, Dartmouth College.
Apollo says the board stands by the directors, who “have impeccable credentials and offer significant value to the Apollo board.”
“It is disappointing that the integrity and independence of such highly accomplished individuals is being questioned by anonymous, unsubstantiated accusations,” Apollo said.
It added, “No member of the board has raised any concerns regarding the qualifications or commitment of the independent directors,” and the directors were “unanimously approved after extensive due diligence.”
But sources say Mukherjee and Joyner were nominated and approved over a tumultuous three-day period without any interviews and that their ties to Black weren’t made clear to the board. Apollo declined to comment, but a source close to the company said the nominees were made available for interviews.
The board expansion was presented to the board on Jan. 22 as a way to proactively improve Apollo’s corporate governance and cushion it from the blow of a soon-to-be-released report showing Black had closer ties to Epstein than previously realized, sources said.
Black also agreed to step down as CEO by the end of July while remaining chairman of the board. Apollo co-founder Marc Rowan would replace him as CEO.
When the plan was announced on Jan. 25, the board shuffle was overshadowed by the simultaneous release of a report Apollo had commissioned from law firm Dechert examining Black’s relationship with Epstein.
The report found no evidence of wrongdoing by Black but showed that he had paid Epstein $158 million for personal tax, accounting and estate planning work following Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea for soliciting a minor for sex.
In the case of Mukherjee, Black and his wife Debra were one of 14 “generous” donors of his wife’s 2018 stainless steel sculpture “Fallen Sky,” permanently housed at the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY, according to a press release.
Black in 2012 bought art publisher Phaidon Press, which in 2016 published the first substantial study of Sze’s work, according to Phaidon’s Web site.
Black was also chair of the Museum of Modern Art when it hosted “Surrounds: 11 Installations” featuring Sze’s art. And when MoMA in 2015 celebrated Black being named co-chair in its sculpture garden, Sze was reportedly among the guests.
Joyner was head of Dartmouth College’s investment committee from 2004 through 2009. Black, a fellow Dartmouth alum, served for an overlapping period on the same committee when he was a member of Dartmouth’s board of trustees from 2002 to 2011.
When Joyner was head of the committee, Dartmouth invested $40 million in Apollo funds, according to reports.
Joyner in 2003 formed Avid Partners, a company that markets private equity funds. Apollo hired Avid in 2005, when Black was CEO, and Avid went on to help Apollo raise $150 million from North Carolina’s pension, according to the Carolina Journal.
Governance experts say Mukherjee and Joyner’s ties to Black raise questions about their independence.
“Of all the people you could get at Apollo, why these two over everybody else?” Doug Chia, founder of Soundboard Governance told The Post. “I think there are some obvious and direct connections here that could influence any decisions they have to make about Leon Black.”
Even if fellow Black’s directors had objected to the nominations, most would have been powerless to do anything, sources said.
At Apollo, only Class C stockholders have the authority to nominate and elect directors. And only three people have Class C shares — Apollo co-founders Black, Rowan and Josh Harris, all of whom approved of the new directors, sources said.
Harris, who had reportedly pushed for Black to step down immediately that weekend, said he “voted in support of the directors pursuant to the normal governance process.”
It’s the latest sign that Black was reluctant to give up control of the financial behemoth he has led since it was founded in 1990. Indeed, when Black abruptly resigned as chairman and CEO on March 21 — days after various board members learned of sexual harassment allegations by a woman he said was extorting him over a “consensual affair” — he told the board in a letter that he hoped “to return at some point,” according to filings.
Black, who declined to comment for this story, has denied the woman’s allegations. He also denied that her claims contributed to his departure, saying he stepped down for health reasons.
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