Question: You were born into the banking world and rising toward the top ranks of one of its largest banks. What made you want to give that up for the world of boxing?
Answer: I had always liked boxing. As a kid I used to slip out of my room to turn on the radio to listen to Muhammad Ali fights. But the reason I entered the world of boxing was all about Oscar. He was someone who was driven to do something more than be a boxer. He wanted to be a businessman and he asked me to help him build up a business empire with him.
Q: How did you two meet?
A: My wife's nephew was a childhood friend of Oscar's. It was this nephew who invited me to play golf with Oscar on a course in Palm Springs back in 1994. Oscar and I paired up on the golf course and drove around in this golf cart together. Between holes, the golf cart came a little too close to another cart coming the other way and as we veered off to avoid that cart, our cart ended up in the water. After that experience, we stayed in touch and I went to see his fights.
Q: How did that morph into a business arrangement?
A: A few years later about 1999 Oscar was at the point where he wanted to change his management team. He wanted more control over his own financial destiny. He knew of my experience in the private banking world and he came to see me one day. I told him he needed a good accountant and a good attorney. I also promised to help him out a bit by handling some of his finances and then he asked me to come on board full time.
Q: Did this offer take you by surprise?
A: Yes, it did. Someone else in my position would probably have turned him down immediately. But I took this offer seriously, and I also really admired Oscar. So I discussed this with my wife and my children and after some soul-searching, came to the conclusion, "Why not?" I then rang up Oscar and told him I was going to join him.
Q: That must have been quite a shock to your parents.
A: I did call my parents. At first, when I told them I was leaving UBS, they were somewhat pleased for years they had wanted me to come back to Switzerland to join my father's bank. But when I told them I was going to be running the business operations for a boxer, they really had a tough time with that. I told my father I really believed that I was at the cusp of an explosion in growth of the Hispanic market and that this was a huge opportunity. But he thought I was going to throw years of banking away on a foolish venture.
Q: What about leaving UBS?
A: They certainly tried to keep me. When they saw I was interested in boxing, they offered me the chance to run a new sports and entertainment division. But I said no. Then they offered me a top post in the bank's Monaco office you've got to realize that to a banker, Monaco is heaven. I still said no, that my mind was made up. Besides, I really wanted to stay in Los Angeles.
Q: What was your impression of Los Angeles?
A: Coming from a small country like Switzerland, I was hit by the sheer size of everything out here in California and in Los Angeles. It was overwhelming. But as I built up the private banking business, I was soon introduced to some really remarkable people, including Kirk Kerkorian and Gabriel Brenner. They showed me the American way of doing business.
Q: Kirk Kerkorian; how did you meet him and what did he teach you?
A: When I was at Swiss Bank and UBS, if you look at the 30 wealthiest individuals in the Western U.S., half of them were my clients. That included Kirk Kerkorian. When I first met him, I was very impressed. His mind is as sharp as one can be. Just looking at what he has accomplished, that made him somebody to look up to. I knew of his boxing career, so when I was deciding whether to leave UBS to join Oscar, I talked with him about it. He said that I was walking away from a very prestigious job, but that if I really felt passionate about this boxing business, I should go for it. He knows what a fascinating sport it is and how somebody can get hooked on it. I still see him and talk to him occasionally. Nowadays, when we put on fights in Las Vegas, we have all the fights with the MGM Group hotels; as you know, he's a major shareholder of the MGM Group.
Q: Your wife is from a whole different world from you. How did the two of you meet?
A: My wife was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. when she was 5. I met her when I was working at Swiss Bank Corp. at the California Plaza building in downtown L.A. She was working for the law firm Skadden Arps in the same building. We actually met and started talking to each other in the elevator.
Q: Is that why when UBS offered you the Monaco post you wanted to stay in L.A. so badly?
A: That was part of it. But also, by that time, the U.S. had become my home. I also grew to love the lifestyle of Los Angeles. I have found in talking with my banking friends who lived in the U.S. and then returned to Switzerland or other European countries that it's often hard to make that transition. It's especially difficult for spouses to go to such a small country like Switzerland after living most of their lives in the U.S. It's a great place to visit, but it's hard to bring an American spouse there full time.
Q: What was your big breakthrough with Oscar?
A: We saw a huge opportunity to market boxing to the Hispanic audience. So we sought out Hispanic audiences through deals with Hispanic television operators. We proposed to HBO to give us a monthly boxing series on their Latino channel. After some convincing, they agreed to give us "Boxeo de Oro" ("Boxer of Gold"). We changed that to "Oscar De La Hoya Presents. " This was the breakthrough we were looking for, because it gave us a platform and allowed us to sell the show to Hispanic boxers, their managers and promoters. After that, English-language shows followed on both HBO and ESPN. Then Univision, the largest Hispanic network, offered us dates.
Q: Did you ever think you yourself would be a boxing promoter?
A: Never in my wildest dreams. But I'm enjoying every minute of it. As I told my father, you can be successful in boxing. Just consider: Jerrold Perenchio was a boxing promoter he promoted the Ali-Frazer fight. And Kirk Kerkorian started out as a boxer he was known as "Rifle-Right Kerkorian" in the ring.
Q: What has it been like for you to come from the relatively genteel world of private banking into the rough-and-tumble world of boxing?
A: It is true that there is a very regulated environment in banking world and a Wild West attitude in boxing. Also, to be honest, boxing has a reputational legacy that's not very favorable. No question that's been a challenge. But I have found that if you bring a businesslike approach to boxing promotion, that's a tremendous opportunity. The big corporations who own the big stadiums and venues appreciate a promoter who brings a transparent business approach, because that's something that's been missing until now.
Q: As someone from the upper echelons of Swiss banking, how have you been able to forge a relationship with Hispanic fighters, many of whom rose to prominence on the street?
A: Well, my wife tells me I have a Mexican heart. But seriously, I have gotten used to the Hispanic world. In part that comes from being married to a Hispanic. But I've also found that the Mexican boxers I know basically think the way I do. I have gained their respect because of the way I've guided their careers and enhanced their fighting potential. I'm bringing a banking and corporate approach to their business. That being said, I still go to the locker rooms before and after the fights. And my kids see the fights, too.
Q: Once things started to jell for Golden Boy Promotions, why did you start to go into real estate?
A: When we formed the company back in 2000, we put together a blueprint for where we wanted to go. We identified other lines of business we wanted to be in, including real estate and Hispanic finance. Essentially, we were using Magic Johnson's business ventures as a model, except instead of targeting poor inner-city black neighborhoods, we were targeting Hispanic neighborhoods. And there's a huge need for redevelopment in Hispanic neighborhoods not just in L.A., but all around the country.
Q: You seem like you're stretched thin. What is your typical day like?
A: I'd say about half my time is spent on boxing-related matters, whether it's promotion or looking for media exposure. The other half I spend talking with bankers, looking at various business opportunities. I do work long hours, often until 8 in the evening. But I try to keep weekends free so I can spend time with my family. And I'm now trying to involve my children and my wife in the business. I really want to share this dream job with them.
Q: What is your relationship like with Oscar these days?
A: I talk with him at least once every day sometimes even two or three times a day. Because he does live in Puerto Rico with his wife who by the way is expecting their second child I really don't see him that often. Now, I usually see him when we do fights. He comes to L.A. maybe four or five times a year. It's more like a long-distance business relationship, but in today's world, with all the e-mail and the cell phone and the Internet, that's not that difficult.
Q: How about with your family?
A: My sister is also a banker and she lives in New York; she's married to the president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Financial. My parents still live in Switzerland; they come and visit us here in the U.S. maybe once or twice a year and I try to visit them at least once a year. My father recently came to one of the fights that we promoted. But he still prefers that I would have been a banker.
Q: I understand you do maintain at least one family tradition stamp collecting. Tell us about it.
A: Like banking, stamp collecting runs in my family. It's one of those activities that you can do indoors during the long Swiss winters. My grandfather had a huge stamp collection when I was 6 years old, I would really look forward to seeing it when we visited his house. My father also has one of the most recognized Swiss stamp collections anywhere in the world, especially of stamps from the 1850s. I'm not too sure my kids are going to follow in this tradition though. They are interested in other things like video games.
Company: Golden Boy Enterprises LLC
Born: 1961; Bern, Switzerland
Education: Federal diploma in business administration, Zurich Business School in Switzerland
Career Turning Points: Coming to the
U.S. for an 18-month training program in banking; meeting Oscar De La Hoya on a Palm Springs golf course
Most Influential People: Kirk Kerkorian; Latino entrepreneur Gabriel Brenner; father
Personal: Lives in San Marino with wife Lilia; has three sons
Hobbies: Stamp collecting, especially 19th century Swiss stamps; golf
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