March 28, 2012
The Chicago Tribune
Chicago financial executive leads group that is acquiring Los Angeles Dodgers
By: Melissa Harris, Becky Yerak
Mark Walter, a successful but very low-profile Chicago financial executive, is a Chicago Cubs season ticket holder.
And as of late Tuesday night, he is also set to be the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Walter, an Iowa native who is chief executive of a Chicago and New York-based financial colossus called Guggenheim Partners, emerged as the leader of the group that won the Dodgers at auction for $2.15 billion, a record price for a sports franchise.
He did the deal, Walter said, because you "don't get two chances to buy the Dodgers."
Walter said he takes his 10-year-old daughter to about 20 ballgames a year. And he has donated to Major League Baseball-affiliated prostate cancer charities to have the opportunity to travel to Dodgers games with Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame former Dodgers manager.
"We're very fortunate," Walter said in a phone interview from New York, where he signed the deal. "We've had success, and that's given me an opportunity to own one of the most storied franchises in America. I hope my daughter and one day my granddaughters will be at Dodgers Opening Day. I just saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The winning offer came from a consortium that includes Walter, basketball great Magic Johnson, longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten, film producer Peter Guber, Guggenheim Partners President Todd Boehly, and oil and gas investor Bobby Patton. (Kasten and Johnson have known each other for more than 20 years.)
Johnson plans to serve as the public face of the team, while Kasten will be in charge of baseball operations. Walter is expected to remain in the background.
"I'm here to support and help my people as much as I can," Walter told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm here to cheer as loud as I can."
Walter, 51, who grew up in rural Iowa, said he is making "a significant personal contribution," as is Guggenheim Partners. He declined to reveal dollar amounts or the financing structure, though The Wall Street Journal said the group made a 100 percent cash offer. The transaction is set to close by April 30.
Guggenheim controls more than $125 billion in assets. It is a financial services company that has become a big player in commercial real estate debt. It is in negotiations to acquire several Deutsche Bank business units, which would quintuple Guggenheim's size, putting it in the league of Legg Mason and Franklin Resources, according to Bloomberg. Just a year ago or so, Forbes described Guggenheim as "little-known."
Its varied holdings include being a co-owner of the company that operates the Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Walter said he spends "quite a bit of time" at Guggenheim's California office but said Chicago is home and has been since he enrolled at Northwestern University Law School. He and his wife, Kimbra, who is a trustee at the Lincoln Park Zoo, live in Lincoln Park.
After graduating from Northwestern, Walter went to work for law firm Sonnenschein Carlin Nath & Rosenthal, now SNR Denton, and then First Chicago bank. He later founded boutique investment firm Liberty Hampshire Co., now a subsidiary of Guggenheim.
"It was successful, and we expanded and we started other businesses, including Guggenheim," Walter said.
The company is affiliated with the old-money family of the same name. Meyer Guggenheim came to the U.S. in the 1840s and made a fortune in mining. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York was named after Meyer Guggenheim's son.
Walter is a trustee of the Guggenheim Foundation, which oversees the New York museum and others in its network, including sites in Spain and Italy.
Peter Lawson Johnston, a great-grandson of the Guggenheim's patriarch, launched Guggenheim Partners in 2000. According to The New York Times and Walter, the idea was to turn Guggenheim Brothers, the family office that tended to the fortune, into a full-fledged financial services company. Yet today, according to the Times, the family is no longer the largest owner of Guggenheim Partners; the Sammons family of Texas is.
Walter said Todd Morley of the G2 Investment Group introduced him to Johnston. Despite its rapid growth, the company grabbed the most attention when it hired Alan Schwartz, the former CEO of Bear Stearns & Co.
When the Tribune on Wednesday queried more than three dozen of Chicago's elite bankers, investors and power brokers, none claimed to know Walter well. Most had never met him.
"I'm a fairly quiet and private person," Walter said. "So I haven't sought publicity."
Owning a sports franchise should upend that, although Walter said it won't change him.
"To be frank, my belief is if you just keep your head down and work, and you have the fortune to be successful, there really aren't moments that change you," he said. "Yes, your company gets bigger and owns more things, but you're just same person you were the day before."
Walter said that in addition to the zoo, he's involved in the Chicago Hope Academy and Urban Students Empowered. He said he plans to use the Dodgers as a vehicle to attract more attention to philanthropic causes.
"I think I'm turning a page in my life, where I can begin to focus on things beyond business, such as building platforms that have impact, social responsibility and philanthropic activities," he said.