Thursday, July 14, 2011

That's, uh, $100 Trillion in 1776 Dollars

Joshua Harris, leader of the Wall Street group that has reached a deal with Comcast-Spectacor to buy the 76ers, is a billionaire bottom-feeder who buys damaged assets cheaply and sells them at a profit.
That's how Harris, 46, who grew up in suburban Washington and graduated from Penn and Harvard, has made his bread since the end of the 1980s, when he escaped the former junk-bond giant Drexel Burnham Lambert. That was after Harris' fellow Wharton graduate Michael Milken wrecked the firm with illegal deals and went to prison.

Harris cofounded Apollo Global Management, which bought bargain-priced bonds from the same kind of busted companies Drexel financed, slashed costs by cutting jobs, facilities, or vendor payments, hired new managers, and then sold at a profit when the companies had recovered.

Harris' primary financing partner in the Sixers bid, real estate dealmaker David Blitzer, performs similar duties for another buyout giant, Blackstone Group L.P.

So who is this guy Joshua Harris?

Harris has been living with his family in London, but he is moving back to New York this year.
Since word of his bid for the Sixers became public, he has been photographed at a Swiss bankers' party in the posh Hamptons and a Wharton School private-equity conference in San Francisco. Between flights, Harris negotiated a deal to invest in a new steel plant in India, among his other Apollo duties.

Will Harris use his buyout expertise to cut costs and jack up sales for another underperforming asset, the Sixers?

Don't count on it, says David Niles, a New York business strategist who counts pro sports teams among his past clients.

"There are a lot of buyout financiers who own teams," he said.

Mark Cuban, owner of the champion Dallas Mavericks, made his money in private equity. Cuban was initially an activist manager but in recent years has stood back while his pros ran the club, Niles said.
The Boston Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox are owned, in part, by private-equity executives. Tom Gores, owner of Platinum Equity, led the purchase of the Detroit Pistons in June for $325 million, about $45 million more than what Harris' group reportedly bid for the Sixers.

"To a person, those guys leave their business heads at the door," Niles told me. "We don't see them professionalizing or corporatizing sports teams. For these guys, this is a hobby."

Maybe you can't prejudge Harris as owner of the Sixers, but here's how he has handled his day job:
Apollo, which claimed investments worth $67 billion at the end of 2010, has been a major owner of landfill giant Allied Waste Industries, casino-owner Caesars Entertainment Corp., Century 21 L.L.C.-parent Realogy, Converse sneakers, and many lesser-known outfits.

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