Beer-Pong Maneuver Tops Private Equity Paddle Battle for Charity

(Bloomberg) -- Tip of the hat to Matthew Stopnik. The co-head of U.S. financial sponsors at RBC Capital Markets got about 30 private-equity firms to compete at ping pong, accepting no fees for his trouble. Instead, the Canadian investment bank collected $207,525 to distribute evenly to four nonprofits that help at-risk youth in New York City:  Harlem RBI, the TEAK Fellowship, Opportunity Network and Youth Inc.

This design greeted guests.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The second annual RBC Invitational Paddle Battle went down at SPiN NYC on Thursday night. Each firm started with two players, whose victories and defeats were chronicled for all to see on a bracket in front of the room.

By 8:30 p.m., Stopnik was handing over a trophy filled with glued-together ping pong balls to the winner, Ngoc Lu, the chief technology officer at AEA Investors. Lu’s other prize: sending a $25,000 check from the RBC Foundation to the youth-focused nonprofit of his choice. He didn’t know which one yet. "I’ll think about it," he said.

Ngoc Lu and Matthew Stopnik

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

SPiN’s in-house pros tagged Lu early on as a serious player. First he took down Tinicum Inc., then Blackstone Group, then Centerbridge Partners, CI Capital and, in the semi-finals, KKR. Then he defeated the reigning champion, Stephen Eisenstein, senior managing director at Harvest Partners.

The tournament in action (that’s last year’s winner Stephen Eisenstein in the khakis).

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"You had to hold him down," Lu said of Eisenstein. "He’s an excellent player."

Eisenstein praised Lu’s serve and said, "I’m going home to lick my wounds."

RBC’s own bankers didn’t play. "We’re very client-centric," said Stopnik.

In the third round, KKR and Apollo Global Management faced off on both sides of the bracket. KKR won one match and Apollo the other.

Apollo’s next match pitted Tyler Gordon against Harvest’s Eisenstein, with several Apollo colleagues including senior partner Marc Becker watching, so no pressure. At one point Gordon was up five points, but the play was fast, the spin merciless, and in a few minutes he’d lost.

The glass of beer where Tyler Gordon lobbed a ping pong ball.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Then came the move of the night.

Paddle and ball in hand, and perhaps frustrated, Gordon faced his co-workers.

"He lobbed the ball in the air," said Dan Barzach of Apollo. It went straight into Barzach’s glass of beer.

"At first I didn’t know where it was coming from, but I felt a splash," Barzach said.

Stopnik, 44, pitched the tournament to his boss at RBC, Blair Fleming, before he started his job there in 2014.

"I told him I had this idea to energize the client base and find a way for the private-equity community to come together to do something positive," Stopnik said. He picked the charities because they are "well-supported by our private-equity clients." He thought a ping-pong tournament would work because people in the industry are "type A, highly competitive," and "everybody knows how to play ping pong," he added.

Most people said they learned to play in their basement. Lu attributed his skill to practice.

Tyler Gordon and Robert Sorrel representing Apollo Global Management (the shirts were made for a firm soccer match).

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

John Grenier and Gandharv Bedi warming up to represent New Mountain.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Mike Epstein and James Peng competed for Centerbridge Partners on behalf of Centerbridge Foundation.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The bracket at the end of the tournament

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Guests and the RBC logo

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

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