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Schaefer walked away from a lucrative career in banking to handle De La Hoya's financial matters

September 10, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Maybe it was just a bad phone connection between Switzerland and the United States. On a static-filled line, it would be understandable if the word "banking" came out sounding like "boxing."

That would certainly be more understandable than what Richard Schaefer II thought he was hearing from Richard III on the line from Los Angeles.

But no, the elder Schaefer, a career banker, had heard correctly. His son, who had graduated from a business school in Bern, had worked for the esteemed Swiss Volksbank, had spent the previous dozen years moving up the corporate ladder in the U.S. offices of Swiss Bank Corp., was turning his back on the profession to go to work for a prizefighter.

"It's time to come back to Switzerland," said the elder Schaefer. "You've been in America too long. You are going from banking to boxing? At least come home first and talk."

The younger Schaefer's employers at Swiss Bank, where he was western regional manager and deputy chief executive for domestic private banking, were just as mystified.

Here he was, at 38, fabulously successful. "Of the 20 or so wealthiest people in the western United States, half of them were my clients," Schaefer said.

After scratching their heads at Schaefer's decision to turn his back on such wealth, Swiss Bank officials began piling up still more lucrative opportunities. You like sports? We'll set up a sports and entertainment group you can head. You want to travel? We'll send you to Monaco where you can run the bank's Monte Carlo branch.

Thanks, thanks, but no thanks, he said. He wasn't going home, and he wasn't going to Monte Carlo. Schaefer was going to become business manager for Oscar De La Hoya.

That sounds a lot better today than it did three years ago when Schaefer came on board. Yes, De La Hoya was the Golden Boy then as he is now, but the gold was rapidly tarnishing back then. His clean-cut image had taken some big hits. Although he was never charged and insisted he was innocent, De La Hoya was facing a lawsuit from a women who claimed he had raped her. He also had a paternity suit pending against him and was attempting to break his legal ties to business manager Mike Hernandez.

De La Hoya was still a master of the sweet science, but life outside the ring had turned sour. And confusing.

Every time he held a news conference, he had a different story to tell.

He loved boxing. He was retiring from boxing to become a singer or an actor or an architect or whatever.

He thought his promoter, Bob Arum, was the best in the world. He didn't trust Arum and wanted to break away from him.

He loved the people around him. He didn't trust the people around him.

And Schaefer was going to give up the serenity and security of the banking business for that?

Schaefer and De La Hoya had met through Schaefer's wife, Lilia, who is related to a friend of the fighter. De La Hoya, who will face Shane Mosley in a rematch Saturday at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena, came to see Schaefer before his first fight against Mosley in June 2000.

"I just terminated my relationship with Mike Hernandez," De La Hoya told Schaefer. "I want to have more control over my business dealings. And I think you and I could connect."

Replied Schaefer: "Well, why don't you go talk to other people as well, and then we'll talk again."

Said De La Hoya: "I don't want to talk to anybody else."

De La Hoya knew what he wanted, and that was to avoid winding up like Mike Tyson, letting others take advantage of him until he was broke.

"Everybody I had on my team before Richard had no clue how to handle money," De La Hoya said. "They didn't teach me how to be involved [financially]. I was fighting, I was training, and I never got in the mix of things, knowing what to do with my money and how to invest it."

And when people would ask him what he was doing with all his money?

"I would tell them, 'It's in my garage. Look at the house I bought. Look at this jewelry I have.' "

And how much was he thinking about his finances on a long-term basis?

"Zero. That's why I got rid of everybody. I just woke up one day and decided this was not the life I wanted."

And then he met Schaefer.

"I could see right away Richard was honest," De La Hoya said. "That counts a lot with me."

Ultimately, Schaefer agreed to join De La Hoya, but not because he had been a lifelong boxing fan. "I didn't do this for boxing," Schaefer said. "I did it for Oscar. This is a guy who gets it."

First came the matter of compensation for Schaefer.

"I can't take a big hit financially," he told De La Hoya, "but I also don't want to make more than a manager should."

Next came the lawsuits.

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