Roberts has an estimated net worth of around $5.5 billion as of 2007 Much of this wealth came through his position at private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. In 1989 Roberts and Kravis led one of the most famous leveraged buyouts (LBOs) in the takeover of RJR Nabisco. Roberts' involvement in the RJR Nabisco deal was profiled prominently in the book and movie, Barbarians at the Gate. Roberts was featured on the cover of FORTUNE Magazine at the height of the buyout boom of the 1980s alongside his cousin and partner, Henry Kravis.
Working for Bear Stearns in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roberts, alongside Kohlberg and Kravis began a series of what they described as "bootstrap" investments. Their acquisition of Orkin Exterminating Company in 1964 is among the first significant leveraged buyout transactions.. In the following years the three Bear Stearns bankers would complete a series of buyouts including Stern Metals (1965), Incom (a division of Rockwood International, 1971), Cobblers Industries (1971), and Boren Clay (1973) as well as Thompson Wire, Eagle Motors and Barrows through their investment in Stern Metals. Although they had a number of highly successful investments, the $27 million investment in Cobblers ended in bankruptcy.
By 1976, tensions had built up between Bear Stearns and the trio of Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts leading to their departure and the formation of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in that year. Most notably, Bear Stearns executive Cy Lewis had rejected repeated proposals to form a dedicated investment fund within Bear Stearns and Lewis took exception to the amount of time spent on outside activities. Early investors in KKR included the Hillman Family By 1978, with the revision of the ERISA regulations, the nascent KKR was successful in raising its first institutional fund with approximately $30 million of investor commitments.
Roberts is a native of Houston, Texas and attended Claremont McKenna College, graduating in 1966. He then attended the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, graduating in 1969. He graduated from Culver Military Academy in '62 and received that institution's "Man of the Year" Award in 1998.
Roberts once commented to the Wall Street Journal on May 30, 1997 on why he loves golf. "Golf is the best game ever invented by man. It treats everyone as an equal, and whatever you do well or poorly you've done yourself."
Roberts was married and has three children with his late wife.