Michael S. Dell, the computer maven, has a new landscaping company.


The computer mogul's investment company, MSD Capital, recently bought a 51 percent stake in Calabasas-based ValleyCrest Cos. landscape architects, the firm that designed landscapes at such properties as Disney's Animal Kingdom and Wynn Las Vegas, a hotel casino.


ValleyCrest, which was valued at more than $500 million, has been doing more than $800 million annually in sales in high-end landscape architecture. It employs more than 9,000.


Dell, who founded the Dell Inc. computer company, has no great personal interest in landscape architecture, but he apparently likes the money.


"We're looking at a $50 billion industry," said MSD partner Eric Rosen. "So these guys (ValleyCrest) have a small slice, and there's a tremendous amount of opportunity."


Rosen said the concept of investing in ValleyCrest was presented to MSD Capital which invests Dell's private money as well as some other partners' personal accounts by an unidentified investment bank.


"We were told that this was a business that was on their list," he said. "We thought it was very interesting and compelling."


Other properties that ValleyCrest has landscaped include the Grove, Chinese Gardens at the Huntington Library, Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Dodgers Stadium, and hundreds of master-planned communities, resorts, golf courses, shopping malls, corporate facilities, private estates and urban parks throughout the United States.


ValleyCrest, which calls itself a "Workforce of Nature," was founded by Burton Sperber in 1949 as a North Hollywood tree nursery.


ValleyCrest President Richard Sperber, the son of Burton Sperber, said the company loves the infusion of cash as well as the freedom that Dell seems to be allowing.


"They're very hands off with the investment group," Sperber said. "There will be no change to what's going to happen in our business."


Sperber would not divulge why the company sold, but attributed it all to personal reasons. "We needed some liquidity," he said.


But Sperber, who said he doesn't have a Dell computer, had some advice for Dell.


"Let's face it, if things go wrong in the computer business," Sperber enthused, "then he always has the landscape business to fall back on."

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