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Private equity firms are rarely, if ever, noted for their emphasis on struggling families. However, Lynn Tilton has declared a mission for her life: To keep people working in America by investing in, and restructuring, companies left for dead.
The former tennis player and banker turned financier has already worked with 240 companies, representing 700,000 jobs through her investment firm, Patriarch Partners. These days she's focusing on opportunities in "old industries" like aerospace, automotive, building and manufacturing, she told CNBC.
"I'm trying to be disruptive," Tilton said in an interview last week with "Street Signs. " "I'm trying to create new products that bring design, beauty and disruption, innovation and excitement into products to keep these companies moving forward, and keeping people working in America."
Patriarch invests in nearly 80 companies across 14 industry sectors, and has revenue in excess of $8 billion. Tilton has been recognized for her efforts to revitalize U.S. manufacturing, which had been on the decline until the domestic shale boom breathed new life into the sector.
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The private equity firm which the Bronx-born, Yale-educated Tilton founded in 2000, "rescues, restructures and breathes new life into companies left for dead and piled upon the heap of creative destruction," according to Patriarch's website.
The glamorous Tilton is often noted for jetting around in helicopters, but has a lengthy track record of turning around companies on the brink. Several years ago, she assumed the reins at MD Helicopter in order to help "make manufacturing sexy and exciting again, " as she told Bloomberg Businessweek.
Evidence suggests she's at least partly succeeding in her mission. An overall employment rebound—November job creation surged by 321,000—has been sparked by an industrial rebound. Much of that revival has been triggered by the oil and gas production renaissance, which PriceWaterhouseCoopers said in a report last week will create 930,000 shale-driven manufacturing jobs by 2030.
For Tilton, those jobs are personal. "The more people that are working and taking care of their families, the more this country is united as one," she told CNBC. Although private equity firms are often faulted for being little more than corporate raiders, Tilton sees her role differently.
"It's easier to buy things overseas for less and sell it for more, but I really want to take humanity with me," she said. "I think things are going to end badly for all of us if we become a 'Tale of Two Cities;' if we become the haves and have-nots."
As for those who want to start their own businesses, the entrepreneur said people want to do it but access to cash can be an issue, especially for women. In fact, Tilton cited statistics showing that by a ratio of 2 to 1, men raise more capital than women.
That may be because of the concern over whether women will actually "stay in the game," she noted.
"Are they strong enough, tough enough to fight through the ugliness and the battles, and are they going to leave to have children," Tilton asked, "or are they going to stay through it?"