He's the $6.2 billion man perhaps soon to be the $9 billion man.
And he isn't a movie star, studio mogul or computer guru. To the average Angeleno, in fact, the name barely registers if at all.
But never mind that. In a year of frantic deal making, Gary Winnick has turned himself into the richest man in Los Angeles, at least on paper and it's all due to the spectacular success of his start-up company, Global Crossing Ltd.
In less than three years, Winnick has taken a barely hatched idea of laying single fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean and spun it into one of the world's fastest-growing telecommunications companies. In the process, he has made himself, his partners and a variety of investors very wealthy indeed.
"It was one hell of a deal," said Michael Steed, senior vice president for investments at Union Labor Life Insurance Co., a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm that manages money for labor unions. Ullico's $7.6 million early-stage investment in Global Crossing is now worth more than $2 billion.
The scope of Global Crossing's financial success is reflected in the fact that four of its directors Winnick, David Lee, Barry Porter and Abbott Brown are among the Business Journal's 50 richest Angelenos.
The latter three appear on the list for the first time (and their names are even less recognizable than Winnick's). All were partners at Winnick's Pacific Capital Group prior to the founding of Global Crossing.
In the words of Lodwrick Cook, former chairman of Atlantic Richfield Co. and current co-chairman of Global Crossing, "Every day I say, 'God bless America and God bless Gary Winnick.' "
Cook has reason to be effusive; his 1 percent equity stake is worth roughly $240 million.
The wealth creation has not stopped at the boardroom. All Global Crossing's employees, from the mailroom on up, were given options ahead of the initial public offering last August. A number of secretaries are paper millionaires. Winnick even gave options to his housekeeper and rabbi.
Winnick is not only L.A.'s richest resident, he is one of the dozen wealthiest people in the United States (in the same league as Sumner Redstone, Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner). And his net worth will likely climb following the recently announced merger between Global Crossing and US West Inc. That deal, on the heels of an earlier merger with Frontier Co., is expected to boost Global Crossing's market capitalization to around $70 billion.
Under the terms of the merger, existing Global Crossing shareholders will be entitled to exchange their shares for half a share in the new company.
As such, Winnick's net worth could surpass the $9 billion mark.
"The success of Global Crossing is one of the great success stories," said Russell Goldsmith, chairman of City National Bank and a longtime business associate of Winnick's. "I'd be hard pressed to identify any entrepreneur that has achieved his level of success so quickly."
Like many successful deal makers, Winnick claims that it's not about money at least not primarily. "You never work to be the richest," he said last week as he was still putting the finishing touches on the US West deal. "You work to use your talents to the utmost." A better gauge of success, he noted, is what your children think of you.
In some circles, of course, Winnick is very much a household name. He got his start at Drexel Burnham Lambert, eventually working as Michael Milken's right-hand man at the legendary junk-bond trading operation in Beverly Hills. (Winnick says he learned a great deal about both hard work and creativity while working under Milken.)
In 1985 he left Drexel to set up his own investment firm, Pacific Asset Management, now known as Pacific Capital Group. Over the next 10 years, he was involved in a variety of ventures, ranging from retail furniture chains to real estate.
Among the more successful were OrNda Healthcorp, which later merged with Tenet Healthcare, and the Playa Vista real estate development. Pacific Capital still has an option to buy a 27 percent stake in that project.
Last year he wound up on the Business Journal's richest list, at an even $1 billion. But that was before Wall Street took a fancy to Global Crossing as the latest, hottest telecommunications play. In fact, the speed with which the company was formed and then took shape is stunning even by today's standards.
The whole thing only goes back to 1996, when Lee, then an executive with Pacific Capital, went to AT & T; after the telecommunications giant announced it was ready to sell off some assets including an operation that specialized in laying cable across the ocean. AT & T;'s price tag: $750 million.
While the investment bankers at Pacific Capital had no experience in telecommunications, they decided to raise the money.
"Nobody had ever done anything like this before," said Porter, senior vice president with Global Crossing (now with a net worth of $1.3 billion). "On our first road show, we had no experience, no management team. We were simply trying to sell this great $750 million start-up."
Those who did buy into the story were mainly investors who had dealt with Winnick before.
"Our investment was based on mutual trust, Gary's transaction record and ability," said Ullico's Steed, whose investment firm had previously partnered with Winnick on Playa Vista. He said he was also impressed by the fact that Winnick and the other Pacific Capital partners were putting in their own money.
But even when the needed financing became available, Winnick lost plenty of sleep over the deal and says he still does.
"It was very intense," said Lee, Global Crossing's president and chief operating officer. "We were literally working 18 hours a day, seven days a week for six months." As a result of his efforts, Lee now has a net worth of $1.4 billion.
Early in the game, the greatest worry was that even with the first cable laid across the Atlantic, there would not be enough customers to cover the cost. But with telecommunications companies desperate for bandwidth through which to pipe their growing volume of telephone and Internet data, demand has been strong.
Many of those potential customers, however, are now becoming rivals, as Global Crossing continues to turn itself, through a series of mergers, into a full-fledged telecommunications company.
The strategy behind the Frontier and US West deals is to team Global Crossing's international capacity with an infrastructure within the United States. This way, Global Crossing will not only be able to pipe data across the ocean, it will be able to route it across the country without having to use another network.
But other companies are now busy laying their own fiber-optic cables. Winnick and the other directors say that the only way to keep ahead of the competition is to keep on moving.
Given the money, given the stress, given the mergers with larger partners that will effectively put Winnick on the sideline in terms of management, are he or the other three Global Crossing founders likely to retire to the golf course any time soon?
For now, Winnick isn't letting on.
"I'm living in the present," he said. "As the largest shareholder of Global Crossing, I will continue to work with the management of both companies, Global Crossing and US West, making the new company successful and benefiting all the shareholders."
That sentiment was shared by the other three.
"I don't think I'll ever retire," said Abbott Brown, a senior vice president at Global Crossing who had previously been chief financial officer of Pacific Capital. "I'm the type of person who always has to be busy."
Brown's stake in Global Crossing is currently valued at over $800 million.
So maybe it is true. The only people likely to make a billion dollars are the people who will never give themselves enough time to spend it.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.