Kris Agarwal Drives Profit In-House

At Platinum Equity, Kris Agarwal stays on top of the ever-expanding requirements of his role, his team’s development, and the company’s continued growth

Kris Agarwal, General Counsel, Platinum Equity (MWA Photography)

For Kris Agarwal, the path to general counsel was not a straight line. He started his legal career during a financial crisis at Skadden Arps in New York City in the restructuring practice. A few years later, he pivoted to banking M&A, where he gained public company and securities experience. Against the backdrop of one of the greatest economic downturns in history, Agarwal moved to Vinson & Elkins, where he focused on private equity, and in 2008, he jumped to a private equity firm as he was preparing to welcome his first child. Naturally, for Agarwal, this was a critical year in his evolution.

“I had to learn quickly how to be an international lawyer, how to communicate and find commercial solutions in different parts of the world, had to learn antibribery and sanction regimes globally, and had to learn how to manage litigation and regulatory issues globally,” Agarwal remembers. “I was learning all of this at a time when the US was on the back end of the financial crisis and an economic recession where private equity was supporting parts of the economy that banks would not lend to.”

Despite these challenges, Agarwal’s efforts and penchant for learning on the job hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Kris brings a forward-looking frame of mind focused on commercial solutions that marries well with the guiding principles that have served as the foundation for Platinum Equity’s success since its inception,” says Karen Guch, a partner at Baker McKenzie.

The newly minted in-house counsel’s trial by fire was a successful one. Nonetheless, even after a decade, Agarwal says the continually expanding requirements of the role mean he’s up every morning reading half a dozen articles about issues that aren’t necessarily within his purview, but probably will be soon enough.

There’s always a new issue to address at Platinum. If it’s not cybersecurity, it’s the prospect of every state in the union enacting its own privacy legislation; if it’s not privacy, its fiduciary roles. And that’s just in the US. Platinum Equity has international offices in the UK and Singapore and manages a global portfolio with companies and employees around the world. That means Agarwal’s jurisdiction is pretty much anything between Venus and Mars.

The Best Defense is to Play Offense

Adapting to a GC role necessitated several recalibrations for the firm lawyer, who was used to driving business with definable billable hours. “One of the challenges on the other side is that you’ve got to create and show your value add,” Agarwal says. “I don’t accept the premise that I’m a cost center; I see myself as a profit driver.” The GC explains that though he is no longer on the front lines of the business, he continues to drive profitability by partnering with the business teams and developing processes that mitigate risk.

Agarwal is also redefining the expectations for a GC. He has no desire to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. “I’m always playing offense,” Agarwal says. “I don’t ever want to play defense. My role is to look forward and identify legal risk for senior management.” While the role inherently requires having to respond to unforeseen issues, Agarwal is adamant that in the deal-at-every-moment nature of Platinum’s business, quickly anticipating and getting in front of concerns before they snowball is key.

The Global Game

The general counsel says his upbringing gave him a head start in learning to navigate the multiple cultures and ethnicities that operating globally requires. Agarwal’s father is Indian, his mother Dutch, and the future lawyer spent a good deal of time traveling internationally as a young man. Having worked extensively on deals in the Middle East and now in Asia and Europe, Agarwal says he’s able to be effective by creating an environment in which his team can still meet goals despite regional differences.

Agarwal has used his own international presence to help train and develop talent. “Various members of my team travel with me so they can learn how to interact with our portfolio companies and get exposure to our deal teams globally,” Agarwal says. “This makes them more well-rounded and creates an environment where people feel free to brainstorm because great ideas and solutions can come out of what seems like a crazy conversation and being involved in diverse situations.”

Not only that, but it’s allowed him to excel in his partnerships. “Kris is smart, forward-thinking, and nimble,” says Thomas A. Wuchenich, a partner at Simpson Thacher. “His foresight and ability to adapt make him highly successful, and he’s the kind of counsel that Simpson Thacher attorneys always like working with.”

Prepping for the Future

As Agarwal has progressed in his roles, he’s become more widely focused on his ability to help create future general counsel. “My philosophy on leadership and career development is best summarized in a quote from Mahatma Gandhi,” Agarwal says. “‘A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create.’”

The GC says he is hyperfocused on the development of skills on his team because it benefits not just his team, but the organization at large. “I often give my team projects that challenge their skills to help them grow,” Agarwal says.  “I ask team members to cross-train and attend meetings with me so they can learn by example.”

When Agarwal was hiring an AGC to work under him at Lime Rock Partners, he says his goal was to hire someone who had the potential to replace him. After an extended period of mentorship and skill building, this goal came to fruition: the AGC took over Agarwal’s GC role when he left for Platinum.

Evolving in a New Era

A little more than a year into his role at Platinum, Agarwal says there are two thoughts that are always in his mind. The first is a looming recession. “The economy has been running on full steam,” he says, “and the labor pool is tight.” The GC says he used to receive many unsolicited résumés. But since starting at Platinum last July, he has received very few, which he attributes to a very tight labor market. It’s meant having to be more proactive about seeking out talent—yet another necessary qualification added to his GC skill set.

The second ever-present thought is that perpetually increasing GC skill set. “The regulatory front has expanded materially, as has the GC role,” Agarwal says. “It comes back to that same question: When is it going to stop?” Coming from Agarwal’s mouth, it doesn’t sound like a complaint or a challenge. It sounds more like a question he’d simply like the answer to so he can move on to the next issue of the day. After all, amid a previous recession, Agarwal still kept the deals rolling, traveled internationally, and even adopted two children. He’s never been one to shy away from the changing rules of the game; he just wants to make sure he’s on offense.

The Importance of Family Dinner

While Kris Agarwal’s private equity GC gig can put him on any continent any day of the week, the father is proud that he’s been able to make life as normal as he possibly can for his children.

While at Lime Rock Management, Agarwal made great efforts to make it home for dinner and to put his kids to bed before heading back to work in his home office. He says that the patience of his wife (a former banker who’s now also in private equity) and their careful calendar planning help him be the best dad he can be.

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Expertise Spotlight

Long-standing Platinum Equity adviser Baker McKenzie is a global law firm that solves complex legal problems across borders and practice areas from our seventy-seven offices in forty-six countries. Our unique culture, developed over sixty-five years, enables our twelve thousand people to understand local markets and navigate multiple jurisdictions, working together as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients.

With more than three hundred private equity lawyers across Europe, the Americas, and Asia Pacific, Baker McKenzie has one of the largest private equity practices in the world. Our practitioners bring creativity and innovation to financing and executing acquisitions, fund-raising, and exit planning. We work with some of the world’s most prominent financial sponsors on private equity deals throughout the world.

Clients tell us that they value our ability to make complex issues simple and manageable, delivering commercially minded advice to match their business needs. With a unique geographical footprint, a breadth of practices that enables us to provide full-service advice on all aspects of a transaction, and deep industry expertise, we become a true partner throughout the investment process wherever your deal takes you.

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Expertise Spotlight

Simpson Thacher has been proud to partner with Platinum Equity for more than fifteen years across multiple fundraisings and strategic transactions, raising more than $21 billion in committed capital, and congratulates Kris Agarwal on his recognition for his work in the private equity sector. Widely recognized as one of the preeminent advisors to private equity firms, Simpson Thacher provides commercial, personalized, and value-added advice to many of the world’s best-known institutional alternative asset managers as well as smaller first-time funds and independent boutiques. With a team of best-in-class lawyers, we offer an integrated suite of legal services across those areas that are important to private equity firms and their portfolio companies, including fund formation, structuring and ongoing advice, fund liquidity strategies, mergers, acquisitions, investments and dispositions, financing solutions, tax, executive compensation, and regulatory clearance, as well as exit strategies, including initial public offerings. Year in and year out, we advise clients on the most complicated and innovative transactions in the private equity sector, ranging from large buyout transactions to strategic middle market deals to growth and venture-oriented investments. Our practice is global in scope, and we provide fund formation and transactional services to our global clients through every one of our ten offices.


Long-standing Platinum Equity adviser Baker McKenzie is a global law firm that solves complex legal problems across borders and practice areas from our seventy-seven offices in forty-six countries. Our unique culture, developed over sixty-five years, enables our twelve thousand people to understand local markets and navigate multiple jurisdictions, working together as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients.

With more than three hundred private equity lawyers across Europe, the Americas, and Asia Pacific, Baker McKenzie has one of the largest private equity practices in the world. Our practitioners bring creativity and innovation to financing and executing acquisitions, fund-raising, and exit planning. We work with some of the world’s most prominent financial sponsors on private equity deals throughout the world.

Clients tell us that they value our ability to make complex issues simple and manageable, delivering commercially minded advice to match their business needs. With a unique geographical footprint, a breadth of practices that enables us to provide full-service advice on all aspects of a transaction, and deep industry expertise, we become a true partner throughout the investment process wherever your deal takes you.