When Jonathan Sokoloff joined Los Angeles-based private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners in 1990, he began a nearly three-decade run of forming retail partnerships. “Our job is to follow where the consumer is spending,” says Sokoloff, one of two managing partners and a former investment banker at Drexel Burnham. Leonard Green has a storied retail investment history, including Thrifty PayLess in the early ‘90s, which was sold to Rite Aid; Petco in 2000, which the firm held for 16 years; and Whole Foods Market, of which the firm became the largest shareholder. Sokoloff currently serves on the board of many of the firm’s portfolio companies, including J.Crew, Jo-Ann Stores and The Container Store.
“We’re very proud of some of the market-leading retailers we’ve been associated with,” says Sokoloff, who is known to court a management team for years before locking arms. “Get out there and meet everyone, be curious and place bets. That’s our secret sauce.” Despite what Sokoloff calls a dramatic shift in retail, the firm perseveres. “Our business has evolved with the times,” he says. “It’s still very consumer-focused and multi-location-focused, but it’s focused more on services than stuff.”