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What kind of man is Dodgers' next owner?

Chicago financier Mark Walter, who will have a controlling stake in the Dodgers if his group's deal goes through, avoids the spotlight. But those around him describe a low-key 'decent guy.'

April 21, 2012|By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times

Guggenheim Partners, which has headquarters in Chicago and New York and an office in Santa Monica, manages about $125 billion for wealthy individuals and institutional investors such as pension plans. In all, the firm has 25 offices in nine countries, and its 2,200 employees include investment bankers, securities traders, risk managers and research analysts.

Over the last decade, Guggenheim Partners has built a reputation on Wall Street for being low-key but aggressive. It performed well during the financial crisis, which helped it scoop up marquee bankers including former Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz. In addition to traditional investments in stocks and bonds, the firm invests in distressed companies in hopes of turning them around and also runs hedge funds that engage in sophisticated trading tactics.

A major player in corporate debt, the firm has snapped up a variety of investments, including insurance companies, model-train maker Lionel and a stake in the venture that owns the Hollywood Reporter trade publication. It has been in negotiations to buy Deutsche Bank's asset management business, a move that would quintuple its holdings to more than $600 billlion, Bloomberg News reported in February.

The insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said the firm's success owes largely to Walter's fiscal discipline and his skill as a "very focused, very careful" investor.

"I can tell you he is a guy with one of the great financial minds of our time, and he will help that team," the person said.

Walter has said he is making a significant personal investment in the team, but neither he nor the Dodgers' new ownership group — Guggenheim Baseball Management — has revealed the sources of purchase money in its all-cash bid of $2.15 billion, which topped others by about $500 million and was well above most estimates of the franchise's worth.

"The market drove the price," Walter said, calling the investment "a multigenerational thing my daughter's granddaughters will own."

He and his wife, Kimbra, also a lawyer, live with their school-age daughter in Lincoln Park, a well-to-do neighborhood north of downtown Chicago and adjacent to Lake Michigan.

In the last decade, the couple have bought several properties on North Orchard Street, including a 6,700-square-foot home for $3.9 million in 2004, public records show. Since February 2011, they have purchased two other homes on the same block, for $2.8 million and $2.3 million, respectively, records show.

Their street was featured in a 2006 Chicago Tribune Magazine story headlined "Attack of the Giant Houses!" that skewered mansions going up on "Chicago's new Gazillionaire's Row." The Walters were not mentioned.

Those who know the couple say they are not given to ostentation.

"They are incredibly low-key," said Christine Zrinsky, vice president for development at the Lincoln Park Zoo, where Kimbra Walter is a trustee and her husband a major fundraiser through Guggenheim Partners, the presenting sponsor of the annual Zoo Ball.

"They are very unassuming, very polite, and they care deeply about the city and their family," Zrinsky said. "They have not made a big splash in the city as far as getting their names out there. They are not self-promoters in any way, shape or form."

Federal Election Commission records show that Walter last year contributed $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee and $5,000 to Obama for America, and he has supported a variety of civic causes in Chicago. He is a trustee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which oversees Guggenheim museums and art collections in New York, Italy and Spain.

In the interview with The Times last month, Walter said he wanted the Dodgers organization to be "a pillar in the community" in Los Angeles.

"Something like this can really be a platform for philanthropic and other activities and community development and citizenship, which I think the world is in need of now," he said.

Several years ago, as part of a Milken Institute campaign to raise money to fight prostate cancer, Walter toured Major League Baseball parks with former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

"He thinks about doing things for other people," Lasorda said. "I am happy he is taking over the Dodgers, and there is no doubt in my mind he will be successful."

Walter spends a good bit of his off time with his wife and daughter in Crested Butte, where one of his limited liability companies in January paid $4 million for a 6,521-square-foot ski retreat on 1.5 acres. The five-bedroom, seven bathroom home had been on the market for as much as $6 million.

Bill Oberling, a longtime area resident, keeps an eye on more than a dozen properties for absentee owners, including Walter. He's also taken river trips and gone hunting and skiing with the financier.

"I just kind of find him to be a down-to-earth Midwestern guy," said Oberling, who counts himself lucky to know Walter — especially now.

"I'm hoping he can get me some tickets when the Dodgers play the Rockies," he said.

kim.christensen@latimes.com

Times staff writers Bill Shaikin, E. Scott Reckard and Walter Hamilton and researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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