Private investing titan Tom Hicks is retiring from his $11 billion firm to do a George Steinbrenner turn, hoping to breathe life into the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars as a more hands-on owner. The founder of Dallas investment behemoth Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst announced he would step down effective March 31, 2005, relinquishing his place on the private equity group's investing committee to concentrate on running Southwest Sports Group. That's the holding company that owns the Rangers baseball team and Stars hockey team, as well as a real estate subsidiary, Southwest Sports Realty. "Following my retirement from HMTF next March, I will continue to be an investor in the firm, my name will continue to be on the door, and I will 'root' for HMTF from the sidelines and help it however I can," Hicks wrote in a letter to investors in the firm's private equity funds. "But my primary focus will be on pursuing my new 'day job' as a full-time sports team owner, real estate developer and private family investor, partnering with members of my family and assisted by other professional staff." Co-founder John Muse and Jack Furst, who became a partner in the firm in 1989, will run the firm's management committee with Lyndon Lea, who heads the firm's London office. The move is a reversal for Hicks, 58, who made rumblings in recent years about selling the two sports franchises. Southwest Sports had sales of $131 million in 2002, a 2.5% increase from the year before, according to Hoover's, a business information service. His private equity firm's apparently revived fortunes may make it easier for Hicks to walk away feeling like a winner. After a few brutal years in which the firm lost large sums of money in failed telecommunications investments and took a pounding in a takeover battle over what is now the Regal Entertainment Group ( RGC) with Colorado investor Philip Anschutz, Hicks Muse managed to restore its luster with a pair of very profitable deals.
It joined in June 2001 with Apax Partners in the $3 billion deal for British telephone directory publisher Yell. In January 2002, Hicks Muse and Apax bought out McCleodUSA Publishing from McCleodUSA for $600 million and merged it with Yell. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange in July 2003, netting the two investors $1.3 billion. The company also issued 152 million new shares, raising $714 million to pay off debt. In January, Hicks Muse and Apax unloaded their remaining 34% stake for another $1.3 billion. Another 2001 investment, Pinnacle Foods, turned a $350 million profit last year when Hicks Muse sold to J.P. Morgan Partners, the private investment arm of J.P. Morgan. Hicks Muse put up about $130 million to buy the assets of bankrupt Vlasic Pickles, and joined it with Open Pit barbecue sauce and Swanson, the frozen food manufacturer. "With a handful of notable exceptions, my partners and I have much to be proud of in terms of our investment performance over the past three decades," Hicks told investors. Those exceptions, particularly the Anschutz deal, lost at least $1.5 billion and hampered the firm's ability to raise the multibillion-dollar funds needed for blockbuster deals. In 2001, the firm sold its controlling stake in Olympus Real Estate Corp., the real estate investment firm it co-founded in 1994, and told investors it would focus on its investments in broadcasting and cable; food and branded consumer products; and manufacturing. It scaled back its Latin American operations, closing a Latin American fund at $125 million, short of the original $750 million target, and shuttered its New York office, accepting the resignation of lead partner Michael Levitt. "As we head into the fourth year of back-to-basics, we remain 'on course, all systems go,'" Hicks wrote in his resignation announcement.
The back-to-basics approach may be helpful for Hicks' sports teams. Since 1999, when the Stars won the Stanley Cup, they have been knocked out of the NHL playoffs or failed to make them. They are currently in fourth place in the Western Conference, Central Division. Hicks bought the team in 1995. Hicks bought the Rangers in 1998, adding considerably to the personal fortunes of then minority owner George W. Bush, who made $14.9 million from an initial $600,000 investment. Despite a pair of first-round American League playoff appearances in 1998 and 1999, the Rangers have never reached the World Series, and their chances look slim this year after another last place finish in 2003. Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez -- signed to a record-breaking one-year, $252 million contract in 2000 -- departed for the New York Yankees, victors over the Rangers in all of their playoff games under Hicks' ownership.