David Tepper, owner of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, has an estimated net worth of about $12 billion as of January, 2020, according to media reports.
That figure makes Tepper the wealthiest owner in the NFL after the death of former Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who died with an estate worth about $22 billion.
Tepper is also the newest NFL owner, purchasing the Panthers for $2.2 billion in 2018, after former Panther owner Jerry Richardson was accused of misconduct, forcing him to sell the team.
How did David Tepper earn his billions, and why is he already on the most outspoken (some say “polarizing”) owners in a league loaded with big-money, big-ego franchise CEOs?
Let’s take a deep dive into Tepper’s life, especially his emergence as an ownership force in the NFL, and how he rose to become one of the more high-profile professional sports owners in the last few years.
David Tepper's Early Life
David Tepper was born Sept. 11, 1957, the second of three children.
His father Harry, was a certified public accountant, and his mother Roberta was a grade school teacher. The family resided in the Stanton Heights neighborhood in Pittsburgh.
An avid sports fan, especially as a follower of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tepper was able to emerge from a troubled childhood in which he suffered from physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father.
After graduating from Peabody High School in 1975, Tepper remained in the area, attending the University of Pittsburgh, where he helped pay his own way by working in the university library.
After graduating Pitt with a degree in economics (with honors), Tepper began dabbling in the investment markets, while taking a position as a credit analyst with Equibank.
Tiring quickly of the corporate world, Tepper enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University, earning a graduate degree in business. Soon after, Tepper went to work at Republic Steel, working in the manufacturer’s treasury department. Several years later, he moved on to Keystone Mutual Funds, before landing at Goldman Sachs (GS) in 1985.
His eight years at Goldman Sachs were marked by ladder-climbing success, as he became the firm’s chief trader. Industry observers say that Tepper saved Goldman’s bacon during the stock market crash of 1987, buying up corporate bonds (mainly in financial companies) and watched them rise in value when the crash ebbed away, and Wall Street was in full swing again.
Deemed volatile and even course at times by Goldman executives, Tepper was passed over for a partnership post, and in 1992, he left the corporate world for good, and launched his highly successful hedge fund firm in 1993.
Perhaps feeding his image as a rough and tumble trader, Tepper kept a pair of brass testicles on his desk at Appaloosa, and would rub them in advance of big trades. It was a strategy to keep his staffers loose, Tepper once said.
A Hedge Fund Giant
Appaloosa hit its stride fairly quickly, thanks to Tepper’s keen business and financial acumen. Eventually, the firm would accumulate $20 billion in assets before Tepper decided to step back from Appaloosa in 2019, as wanted to spend more time overseeing his new NFL franchise.
His signature investment at Appaloosa was in 2007 and 2008, when Tepper, a former investment banking executive himself, made a major bet that the U.S. government wouldn’t let the big banks fail during the period’s massive economic crisis, which triggered the Great Recession.
That boosted Appaloosa’s assets under management over the $10 billion mark, and David Tepper hasn’t look back since – at Goldman Sachs or anyone else.
Before he left Wall Street behind for the gridiron glory of the NFL, David Tepper had built a formidable legacy as the head of Appaloosa Management. Forbes once called him “arguably the greatest hedge fund manager of his generation.”
He sums up his own success as an investment manager succinctly – “We don’t really buy high-flyers. We buy before they get high-flyers.”
The Siren Song of the NFL
David Tepper always had an interest in professional sports franchise ownership.
In 2009, he bought a 5% stake in his hometown NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and held it until he made his move on the Carolina Panthers in May, 2018.
Once his bid was accepted, Tepper sold his stake in the Steelers, and focused on being owner and chief decision maker for a successful league franchise with a marquee quarterback in Cam Newton, and an appearance in the 2015 Super Bowl (where the Panthers lost to the Denver Broncos, who had Peyton Manning on their side, in Super Bowl 50.)
It didn’t take Tepper long to ruffle some feathers among the NFL ownership hierarchy. In January, 2020, he hired Baylor University coach Matt Rhule to coach the Panthers, paying a record (for a new hire) $62 million over seven years. It was a record-breaking contract that earned the ire of more than one NFL owner.
But Tepper brushed off any hot takes as an owner early on, telling reporters in 2018 that everyone in the organization had a say in team decisions, and he was more than willing to live with that as an operating model.
"I think there's been an atmosphere where this organization – I'm talking more the business side – wasn't allowed to be a team and (people weren't) able to go up and talk about things,” he said in a press conference. “There's going to be no impediment to that in the future. … This is going to be an open place. So there's not going to be non-disclosure agreements no matter what in this new place. That was then. This is now. OK? This is going to be an open place where people will have the right people to talk to that come up with problems. And by the way, if I do something incredibly stupid, they should be talking about me. That's what this place is going to be."
Perhaps other NFL owners shouldn’t be upset with Tepper. By paying $2.275 billion for the Panthers – a professional sports team-buying record – Tepper raised the financial value of every team in the league, and by a significant amount.
David Tepper was married to Marlene Resnick Tepper from 1986 to 2014, and has three children.
He has since remarried to Nicole Bronish, in 2019 after a two-year relationship. Tepper generally keeps his private life private, describing himself as “a regular upper-middle-class guy who’s unpolished and proud of it.”
In 2016, Tepper moved his family from New Jersey, a high-tax state to tax-free Miami, Florida, where he set up new quarters for Appaloosa. Reportedly, Tepper was New Jersey’s biggest taxpayer and his departure triggered an avalanche of media stories bemoaning the Garden State’s tax burden.
Previously, he had purchased a $43.5 million beachfront mansion in Long Island, which he tore down and had a new mansion built in its place. In a measure of chest-puffing against Goldman Sachs, Tepper purchased the Hamptons’ property from an ex-wife of his former Wall Street boss.
David Tepper is highly political and no fan of President Donald Trump, who he has called “demented, narcissistic and a scumbag.”
Tepper is a frequent contributor to political campaigns, local and national. He is a moderate Republican who has financially supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He also donated to the campaign of New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat.
Tepper is also a noted philanthropist, donating $55 million to Carnegie Mellon University in 2003, and donating another $67 million in 2013, to fund the university’s “Tepper Quadrangle” on the north end of campus. He has also given generously to the University of Pittsburgh.