Josh Harris, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management Inc., obsessively weighs the risks and implications of decisions he makes: whom to hire for a role at the private-equity giant, whether to move forward with an investment or which trades to make to fill out the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA team he co-owns. Former employees describe him as a micromanager who is known to call people numerous times in a day to discuss a small investment and spend an entire meeting rehashing unresolved questions from his previous one. Even Mr. Harris’s friends joke about sometimes getting multiple calls from him in a single day to discuss the same matter.
This approach has helped to make Apollo an investing giant with $433 billion in assets, second only in the private-equity world to Blackstone Group Inc. In 2017, it raised a record-setting $24.7 billion buyout fund that has only been surpassed by a Blackstone vehicle. Its $300 billion credit business has nearly tripled over the past five years.
Now, Mr. Harris, a 55-year-old billionaire, faces a new challenge: Trying to revamp the firm’s cutthroat culture and rough-edged image, which has long been seen as synonymous with the men who founded it 30 years ago. He is trying to modernize its corporate structure, creating a broader shared power arrangement that could one day form the basis of a succession plan. And he’s trying to move past the firm’s reputation for using sharp elbows to pursue profits at all costs.
Recently, the task of scrubbing up Apollo’s image has been made more difficult as its co-founder and most recognizable personality, Chief Executive Leon Black, has found himself under scrutiny for his relationship with late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted last year on federal sex-trafficking charges involving underage girls and later took his life in a Manhattan jail.
A group of Apollo’s independent board members hired law firm Dechert LLP to conduct a review of the business connections between Mr. Black and Mr. Epstein. And in a conference call Thursday Mr. Black offered his most detailed public account yet of his ties to Mr. Epstein to whom he has said he paid millions of dollars annually to provide estate planning, tax and professional services to his family partnership and other family entities from 2012 to 2017.