The history of private equity and venture capital and the development of these asset classes has occurred through a series of boom and bust cycles since the middle of the 20th century. Within the broader private equity industry, two distinct sub-industries, leveraged buyouts and venture capital experienced growth along parallel, although interrelated tracks.
Since the origins of the modern private equity industry in 1946, there have been four major epochs marked by three boom and bust cycles. The early history of private equity—from 1946 through 1981—was characterized by relatively small volumes of private equity investment, rudimentary firm organizations and limited awareness of and familiarity with the private equity industry. The first boom and bust cycle, from 1982 through 1993, was characterized by the dramatic surge in leveraged buyout activity financed by junk bonds and culminating in the massive buyout of RJR Nabisco before the near collapse of the leveraged buyout industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The second boom and bust cycle (from 1992 through 2002) emerged from the ashes of the savings and loan crisis, the insider trading scandals, the real estate market collapse and the recession of the early 1990s. This period saw the emergence of more institutionalized private equity firms, ultimately culminating in the massive Dot-com bubble in 1999 and 2000. The third boom and bust cycle (from 2003 through 2007) came in the wake of the collapse of the Dot-com bubble—leveraged buyouts reach unparalleled size and the institutionalization of private equity firms is exemplified by the Blackstone Group’s 2007 initial public offering.
In its early years through to roughly the year 2000, the private equity and venture capital asset classes were primarily active in the United States. With the second private equity boom in the mid-1990s and liberalization of regulation for institutional investors in Europe, a mature European private equity market emerged.