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Kevin Landry, 69; brilliant leader of private equity firm

Kevin Landry served as chief executive of the investment firm TA Associates for 23 years and chairman for five.
Kevin Landry served as chief executive of the investment firm TA Associates for 23 years and chairman for five.2009 file/John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff/Globe Staff

When Kevin Landry learned that he had been wait-listed at the Wharton School, where he planned to get a master’s degree in business, he figured there was only one thing to do. He hopped a train to Philadelphia and rushed to the admissions office, without an appointment, and waited until the dean agreed to see him.

Mr. Landry secured a spot in the class of 1968 with the same gusto that he scaled rock faces and flew airplanes. Rarely taking no for an answer, he became one of the most prominent figures in private equity investing in Boston. As head of the investment firm TA Associates for 28 years, he was legendary for his work-hard, play-hard ethos and his penchant for blunt honesty that won over clients and colleagues.

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“For every partner at TA, Kevin was their mentor, their teacher, their boss, their father figure,’’ said Brian Conway, a managing director at the firm. “I think people learned from him not just what it takes to be a terrific investor, but what it takes to live a life of consequence.”

Mr. Landry, 69, died Thursday in his Boston home of complications of lung cancer. Diagnosed in 2010, he was given less than a year to live and characteristically opted for aggressive treatment that gave him more time to do the things he loved.

“Look at the totality of my life,” he told the Globe last year while undergoing treatment. “I’ve been so lucky.”

Exacting and passionate, he read four newspapers by 8 a.m. and worked 12-hour days. In golf there were no mulligans. If he swam, it was a race to the dock. He kept a “No whiners” sign in his office and had breakfast brought in to TA so employees would arrive early.

What mattered most, though, was getting home to his wife, Barrie, for evening dinners and making it to his children’s sporting events. His daughter Kim GwinnLandry of Wellesley said that when she looked up from the ice during her Harvard hockey games, he’d always be there, even if he had to fly to upstate New York or Canada.

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“He was the loudest cheerer,” she said, adding that although he never ended up needing it, “he kept an extra coat in the car in case he got ejected” so he could disguise himself and return to the stands.

The second of five children and the eldest boy, he grew up in Arlington and Andover. He learned about hard work from his father, a runaway who put himself through school and became a neurosurgeon. Above all, honesty mattered in the household of his youth.

“One rule at our house that was unbreakable is you could not lie. I was a little bit of a juvenile delinquent,” Mr. Landry joked, “but I never lied. That was the unforgivable thing.”

He played football at Harvard University, though he said he may have distinguished himself more as a poker player than as a student.

He married Barrie Hogan in August 1967, and they became major supporters of Harvard. They funded the Jeremy R. Knowles Undergraduate Teaching Laboratory and endowed the women’s ice hockey coach position. In 2010, Mr. Landry was awarded the Harvard Medal, the highest honor the university gives to alumni for extraordinary service.

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“Kevin Landry was a great Harvard citizen,” Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, said in a prepared statement. “He enthusiastically supported academics and athletics, thoughtfully engaged in philanthropy, and eagerly shared his perspectives with deans and other leaders across the university, always with equal measures of candor and care.”

He learned about investing from Boston venture capital veteran Peter Brooke, who hired Mr. Landry for a summer job in 1967.

“Kevin was talented, blunt, and tenacious,” said Brooke, now chairman of Advent International. “As I watched Kevin’s abilities carry him to ever greater achievements, and as our professional and personal relationship deepened over the years, I truly reveled in his success.”

Mr. Landry often said his only job experience before TA Associates was driving a cab in Cambridge and serving as a helicopter mechanic in the Army Reserve. But he took to investing with ease, at first hunting for startup companies in the early days of high tech. His first deal was a computer printing company.

In the 1970s, he became interested in genetic engineering and helped back Biogen, the Cambridge company that became a bedrock of a budding biotechnology industry.

As TA grew and moved to larger, middle-market deals, Mr. Landry kept a deep grasp of the details about the companies in which his firm invested, overseeing and often surprising his partners with questions large and small about their portfolio companies.

His longtime TA partner Andy McLane once told the Globe: “Kevin is really smart. It’s scary because you don’t want to play trivia games with him; he knows everything. He’ll ask you what’s the longest river in Saskatchewan, and he’ll know the answer. He knows stuff, and he’ll remember stuff.”

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No fan of passing trends, Mr. Landry was highly skeptical of the frenzied Internet era in the late 1990s. He allowed a handful of young technology deals only briefly before shutting them off and avoiding the worst of the crash that followed.

He also was rare among those in his line of work for his outspokenness and willingness to say unpopular things. In the run-up to the financial crisis, he warned that banks were lending too zealously and that it would probably end badly.

During the last presidential campaign, even as he provided significant financial support to Republican Mitt Romney, he spoke out against favorable tax treatment on profits for people in their shared private equity industry.

Mr. Landry wore his conservative politics on his sleeve, and on the bumper of the Cadillacs he always drove out of loyalty to General Motors Co., whose pension TA has helped manage for years.

He was also endlessly curious, traveling the world to court investors, including the Middle East. He believed he was one of the first Western executives to return to Kuwait after the first Gulf War and recalled flying in at night and seeing the devastation of the oil fires, with their raging flames and thick black smoke. He thought that when the country recovered, it would still have major wealth to invest.

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“I just felt we probably ought to go back and talk about investments, pretend life was normal again,’’ he recalled last year.

Mr. Landry planned to scale back his time at TA in 2009, but couldn’t tear himself away after the financial crisis. Open about the illness that would curtail the life he enjoyed so much, he told legions of friends and clients in spring 2012 that he was retiring at last. But he told them in an e-mail because, he said at the time, “I cannot stand to see a grown man cry, especially when it is me.”

In addition to his wife and his daughter Kim, Mr. Landry leaves another daughter, Jennifer Landry Le of Riverside, Conn.; a son, Christopher, of New York City; a brother, Brian of Katonah, N.Y.; two sisters, Brenda Lee and Christina, both of Sarasota, Fla.; and nine grandchildren.

Always attentive to details, Mr. Landry planned his funeral, which will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 15 in Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.

Active as long as he could be, he went fishing with friends, traveled, and took grandchildren to the Museum of Fine Arts, where he had been a longtime trustee. Late at night, Mr. Landry sent e-mails about news stories and political issues that irked him.

If he could not attend a grandchild’s hockey game, he watched on his iPad, shouting as if he were rink side.

“There was no better person in the world,’’ said Brooks Zug of HarbourVest Partners, a friend and longtime investor with TA. “The thing about Kevin is he kept charging until the very end.”


Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the number of years Mr. Landry served as chief executive of TA Associates. He worked there for 45 years and was chief executive or chairman for 28.