The Attanasio way

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

Business executives who have worked with Mark Attanasio say the Milwaukee Brewers’ new owner is a hard-working, straightforward businessman with a flair for making money and a passion for Major League Baseball. Those are qualities that make the 47-year-old Attanasio a perfect fit to lift the Brewers into a new era, according to those who know him. Associates say due diligence and delegation with accountability are two hallmarks of Attanasio’s best business practices.

Attanasio and a handful of partners from California have pumped new West Coast capital and vitality into the team after acquiring the Brewers from an ownership group led by the Selig family for $220 million earlier this year.
Attanasio, 47, is a partner and the chief investment officer of The TCW Group Inc., a $109.7 billion money management firm based in Los Angeles.
The California executives who have joined Attanasio in his baseball ownership venture include: Robert Beyer, chairman and chief executive officer, The TCW Group; Marc Stern, president, The TCW Group; Jean-Marc Chapus, group managing director of mezzanine investments, The TCW Group; and Richard Ressler, principal and founder, CIM Group Inc., Hollywood, Calif.
So, just how did Attanasio persuade his bosses and his California contemporaries to pony up some cash and join him on his Milwaukee project?
"Mark is a passionate baseball fan. He grew up in a pretty blue collar neighborhood. He’s the American dream, in the sense he’s done very well and achieved a great deal. But he is basically the same kind of person. He’s a straight shooter, a very ethical person. If he tells you something, you don’t need a long contract or even any contract to count on him to keep his word. He’s a pleasure to have as a friend," said Stern, who is Attanasio’s boss in the TCW corporate hierarchy but regards him as an equal.
When asked to give an example of how Attanasio operates, Stern said, "There was one instance where I really needed him at the point that this happened to help me and my company out, and it was kind of on an emergency basis. There wasn’t really time to sort it out, and within 15 minutes of the conversation, he said, ‘I’m in,’ and we worked on that kind of handshake basis for six months or so.
"He is totally a man of his word. Owning a baseball team is a dream of his. Again, he’s fulfilling his dream. But he’s also a good businessman, a smart guy, and he wants to win. Let me put it this way: I’m investing with him, right along side of him. I’ll be there opening day. This is an important venture and an exciting one," Stern said.
In addition to the California crew, the Brewers’ new ownership group includes members of the Selig ownership group who met with Attanasio and decided to re-up with the new guy. The carry-over group includes John Canning Jr., chairman and CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners in Chicago; Stephen Marcus, chairman and CEO of Marcus Corp. in Milwaukee; Harris Turer, president of Hometown Property Management in Glendale; and David Uihlein Jr., president of Uihlein/
Wilson Architects in Milwaukee.
Canning met Attanasio for a couple of hours over lunch at the Milwaukee Athletic Club when the new ownership group was being put together late last year.
"I wasn’t even thinking of continuing on. You really needed a fresh start. As some of the owners (of the Selig group) got older, it wasn’t really wise for them to continue on in a venture like this. He just kind of outlined why he was interested. He was right then and there forthright about how he would like to have myself and some of the others stay in," Canning said.
"I really got to know Mark just during the process, because I was making a decision to stay in the transaction or not. I knew a lot of people who knew him, and the due diligence I (discovered) about him was very impressive," Canning said.
Canning said Attanasio will not be a meddling owner, but instead will delegate authority to the talent in the Brewers’ front office and then hold them accountable for results.
"We really hit if off well. He looks like he’s going to be a great partner. He’s a very thoughtful guy and very smart, but he also seems very inclined to rely on the expertise to run the functional businesses at the Brewers," Canning said. "He’s the boss, but he isn’t the kind of guy to interfere with the guys on the ground. He doesn’t come in as someone who thinks he knows all the answers. He’s very interested in building up a quality franchise. I think he’s assembled a good group of partners."
Uihlein, a rabid baseball fan, said he became excited about the Brewers’ future with Attanasio at the helm after meeting him over breakfast late last year. At that meeting, they discussed the fact that a Milwaukee team had not won a World Series since 1957, when the Braves beat the New York Yankees, Uihlein said.
"He impressed me. That’s what it’s all about. My goal here is to be in a group here that wins the World Series. Let’s face it, 1957 is a long time. Subsequent to that, he took the time to e-mail me about the Carlos Lee transaction. Just that they were looking for a right-handed power hitter," Uihlein said.
"The No. 1 one acid test for me is, ‘Is he a baseball fan?’ And he is. You have to love the game and you have to understand the game to be successful in it. Cleary, he is a fan, but he also knows the baseball operation is best left to the professionals. You buy companies with good management and let them manage. The Brewers have excellent people in place, and he recognizes that," Uihlein said.
Attanasio was courting Turer to join the new ownership group when the two met for dinner at Mo’s – A Place For Steaks in downtown Milwaukee on the evening of Oct. 4 after the Brewers staged a press conference to announce the sale of the team.
"I went to dinner with him that evening and really got to know Mark a lot better than I did before that. It was a great conversation. I really wanted to continue to be part of the ownership group, but I wanted to learn more about Mark and what fascinated him about the Milwaukee Brewers," Turer said.
Turer said Attanasio believed in the potential of the Brewers as a business venture because of the team’s strong minor league system, Miller Park and loyal fan base.
"He was really taken by the community and how loyal the fan support for the team was. I think Mark saw these things together. He is taking a very cautious approach. He wants to know what we do, how we do it and what’s the best way to do it. I’ve learned something from that as well. I think that is a very intelligent way to do this. I really do," Turer said.
In addition to the California investors and some members of the Selig group, Attanasio was able to attract some new local blood to his ownership team, including: Michael Jones, senior vice president of corporate affairs, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee; and David Lubar, president, Lubar & Co. Inc., Milwaukee, and chairman of the Lake Express high-speed ferry in Milwaukee.
Lubar said he was interested in investing in the Brewers from the moment he met Attanasio.
"I was very impressed with his personal characteristics, beginning with his intelligence, business experience, ethics and analytical approach to decision making. I was also impressed with his openness to being creative about how to create a successful baseball team in Milwaukee, and I ultimately decided that it would be an excellent working relationship to support him in acquiring and building the team," Lubar said.
"Mark is a strong believer in implementing best practices, which in this case would mean visiting with other baseball owners, touring their facilities and understanding what they do that works for them, in terms of producing winning teams and enjoyable spectator experiences," Lubar said.
"I was impressed with the idea of traveling around the country and learning all that would be learned and bringing it back to Milwaukee. I view this investment the same way I view Lake Express. I believe the Milwaukee Brewers can be a winning investment, as well as a great contribution to the quality of life for Wisconsin," Lubar said. "We’re not going into it thinking we’re going to lose money. We think we’re going to make money, and that money will be reinvested back into the team."
Bill Mendel, an Attanasio business associate of Mendel Communications in New York, has known him for about 20 years.
"On Wall Street, where people go for the next dime, he has basically the same core people who have worked with him for several years. I think that should tell you something," Mendel said.
"He is very loyal and asks people to be loyal and asks for a team approach. In general, he is a modest man. He’s clearly a good judge of character. His solutions to problems are not always orthodox. He has a very distinct process, which is getting the facts, figuring out what the solutions are and acting decisively. One other thing I can tell you is there’s a lot of emphasis on community and family. He’s unbelievably dedicated to his family," Mendel said.
Attanasio has decided to keep the key performers of the Brewers’ management team, both on the field and in the front office.
"He just strikes me as an incredibly down-to-earth guy with no ego," said Rick Schlesinger, executive vice president of business operations for the team. "He’s a fast study. He’s not shy to say, ‘I don’t know things.’ It’s impressive that he encourages a full exchange of ideas. There’s no sense that he just wants to hear you say what he wants to hear. It’s very refreshing. We have a healthy dialogue. We’re very excited for the franchise. It’s just a good business environment for us. We’re really energized."

Who owns the Brewers?
Mark Attanasio, partner and chief investment officer of U.S. below-investment-grade fixed income at The TCW Group Inc., Los Angeles, is the principal owner of the Brewers. His minority partners comprise an ownership team with a combination of with California flair and Milwaukee muscle. The partners include:
• Robert Beyer, president and chief investment officer, The TCW Group Inc.,
Los Angeles.
• John Canning Jr., chairman and chief executive officer, Madison Dearborn
Partners LLC, Chicago.
• Jean-Marc Chapus, group managing director of mezzanine investments,
The TCW Group Inc., Los Angeles.
• Michael Jones, senior vice president of corporate affairs, Miller Brewing Co.,
• David Lubar, president, Lubar & Co. Inc., Milwaukee, and chairman of the Lake Express high-speed ferry in Milwaukee.
• Stephen Marcus, chairman and chief executive officer, Marcus Corp., Milwaukee.
• Richard Ressler, principal and founder, CIM Group Inc., Hollywood, Calif.
• Marc Stern, president, The TCW Group Inc., Los Angeles.
• Harris Turer, president of Hometown Property Management, Glendale.
• David Uihlein Jr., president of Uihlein/Wilson Architects, Milwaukee.

Who is Mark Attanasio?
Mark Attanasio, 47, is a partner and the chief investment officer of U.S. below-investment-grade fixed income of The TCW Group Inc., a $109.7 billion money management firm based in Los Angeles. Attanasio oversees TCW’s Leveraged Finance Group. He also is a director of TCW Asset Management Co. and the Brown University Third Century Fund. Before joining TCW in 1995, Attanasio was co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Crescent Capital Corp. and was a managing director of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. He also was an attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton, specializing in corporate finance and securities law. A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Attanasio earned an atrium baccalaureatus (A.B.) degree from Brown University and a juris doctorate (J.D.) degree from Columbia University School of Law. Attanasio and his wife, Debbie, reside in Los Angeles and have two sons.

‘Our way works’
Attanasio believes his core business strategies will work in baseball

ark Attanasio looks before he leaps. He gathers facts and performs due diligence before he makes decisions. Those traits helped him build a fortune as a partner and the chief investment officer of U.S. below-investment-grade fixed income of The TCW Group Inc., a $109.7 billion money management firm based in Los Angeles. Those traits also guided his decision to buy the Milwaukee Brewers. Attanasio says he will apply the same principals that helped him build an investment empire to the Milwaukee Brewers. To the point, Attanasio says the Brewers will be profitable, and they will reinvest those profits into the team. Attanasio recently discussed his core business philosophies and his plans for the Brewers with Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler. The following are excerpts from that interview.
SBT: You’ve put together an interesting group of investors in your ownership team. Are you still interested in attracting other investors?
Attanasio: "We’re going to consider other local investors. You know, it’s a little bit of a balance. Obviously we looked at folks in the community on the transaction. That being said, ownership teams can get unwieldy. Looking at other Major League teams, generally, the smaller the ownership group, the better."

SBT: It’s easier to make decisions.
Attanasio: "It’s easier to make decisions. It’s easier to communicate. And frankly, on a certain level, it’s more fun, because it’s more exclusive, without being too snotty about it (laughs)."

SBT: Sure. The readers of our publication are the owners and managers of privately held companies in the Milwaukee area. Let’s just say one of them is going to be reading this and says, "You know, I really like the direction the Brewers are going, and I’d be interested in having a stake in the team." How would you recommend they proceed?
Attanasio: "You know, what they should do is, if they have any friends in the ownership group, we mentioned a number of the guys are local. That’s a good place to start. Talk to any of those folks. If they don’t know those folks, I guess, Milwaukee’s a small business community, and if someone wants to make themselves known, I’m sure they can figure out how to do that."

SBT: You’re right. You’ve been reaching out to the Milwaukee-area business community. When you speak to them, what is the essence of the value proposition that you tell them as you’re trying to convince them to lease a suite or commit to sponsorships or whatever the case would be?
Attanasio: "Well, I think what we want to do, and I talked about this to the Greater Milwaukee Committee, is having a value proposition for businesses. So, hopefully, the first value is that we have a competitive team, and it’s one of the nicest stadiums in the United States and see some good baseball in what I think is the most competitive division overall in baseball. We would like to be able to give local businesses their money’s worth. In terms of sponsorships, we’re looking to make sponsorships meaningful to where they can be helpful to those businesses. If folks are going to be advertising through us, that it gets to their end consumers in an efficient way.
"If they’re going to be buying a suite at Miller Park, that we can meet their needs from an entertainment standpoint. If we can in any way tailor our services to what their requirements are, we would do that. So, I guess what we’re doing is we’re listening to folks if they tell us, ‘It would be great if you guys can do this.’ So, you say you’ve got 14,000 businesses that read your publication, we don’t know the ins and outs of all those businesses. Some of this is meant to be fun. As I said, my main reason for buying the Brewers is I’m a baseball fan and I want to have fun. And yes, we want our sponsors to have fun with us. We want them to have a good business relationship with us too, but it should also be fun."

SBT: That seems like a logical way to blend the business side and the entertainment aspects of baseball.
Attanasio: "Right."

SBT: You mentioned the suites. Miller Park has 70 suites. How many are not rented? Will you consider discounting the rate to fill them up?
Attanasio: "We’ve got 15 suites that are currently available. One of the things to mitigate the fact that we have 15 open suites, what we’re going to do is premium-price those suites, because we believe for the (games against) Yankees and the Cubs, we can sell those suites out. At a premium price of $4,000 per suite, and that will meet our budget for this year.
"This (SBT) is a business publication. We want to have a value proposition for the people who step up. It’s not really fair to the suite holders who support us that anybody else who wants to get a suite can get a suite for the same price they’re getting."

SBT: So, you don’t want to undercut your primary customers.
Attanasio: "Right."

SBT: You mentioned advertisers. Are there going to be any significant new corporate sponsorships at Miller Park this year?
Attanasio: "As far as I know, no. We have had existing sponsors who have increased their commitments to us. And that I find very heartening. Also, I should say, so you know, one of the things I wanted to do with this whole program with the new owner is to start reaching out to the folks who have supported us all these years. We’ve really tried to do that. We want to start by making sure we’re on a firm relationship grounding with our existing sponsors and supporters, and then we’ll kind of branch out. We’re really just reaching the point now where we can do that. Some of that is a function of timing. The deal closed in mid-January. In a perfect world, you’d like to have more time to do that. But Steve, I’m in this for the long haul. If we don’t get to it this year, we’ll get to it next year. I’m very intent on doing things the right way. The right way is to stick with your existing customers and make sure they’re being taken care of and then go from there."

SBT: You mentioned doing things the right way. In a general sense, what might you think is the right way – your way – of doing business? Could you describe your business management philosophy?
Attanasio: "Yeah. I like to always consider all the options. To roll up your sleeves, do all the work, collect all the facts, consider all the options and then go from there. Likewise, I like to see where others have been successful. There’s no issue with ‘not invented here’ with me. If someone else does something really well, and I can copycat it, I’m very happy to copycat it. I don’t need to do things differently. All that being said, I understand the importance of decision making. As an investor, you can’t have analysis paralysis. This year, we had to make a number of decisions about ticket prices. So, it’s kind of a combination of having the ability to work hard, do research, be analytical, collect facts, but still make decisions.
"I tell the folks who work here, ‘Our way works.’ We have 15 years of data in the investment business. Our way works. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way. You can point to a number of companies and say, ‘This company does this, and this company does that.’ But our way does work. I work in investment management, and I’m going to try to apply that, because it’s what I know, to baseball. I’m very confident it will work."

SBT: Will there be any new revenue streams out of Miller Park? Anything new, that will make people say, "Wow, that’s different this year."
Attanasio: "Prior management is current management. One of the reasons I found it attractive to buy the Brewers was I thought things are going well. I don’t feel an immediate need to make a splash for the sake of making a splash. I really want to do something in the interactive gaming area. Philadelphia has a state-of-the-art interactive gaming area. I’d really like to have that at Miller Park. We’d like to maybe incorporate that eventually with a shrine to Milwaukee baseball.
"Relative to what I was saying before, I’ve had somebody doing a study of all the stadiums and all of the arenas in the United States – football, baseball, basketball and dare I say, hockey. See what other folks are doing with that and build a database. I want to know what everyone’s doing. I want to know what the Washington Redskins are doing. I want to know what the L.A. Lakers are doing. That’s kind of an example of how we want to approach things. We’ve identified the firms that can do this. Rick Schlesinger (Brewers vice president of business operations) has already identified a number of firms that can be helpful from both an architectural standpoint and from a thematic standpoint, and we’re going to get going on that. "

SBT: As far as the team on the field, in your mind, do you have a cutoff line of what would define a successful season this year from a baseball standpoint?
Attanasio: "I talked to the players about this, about what defines winning. Winning means a number of things. Obviously, wins and losses on the field is where the rubber meets the road, and we’re all expecting to see improvement over last year. Obviously, baseball is a game that can have a lot of twists and turns and injuries and things, but barring that, I think we’d like to see some real improvement. Other than that, we’re going to want to define winning by making sure we’re increasing our presence in the community. I want to define winning by having our players be more accessible to the fans. It’s one of the reasons we rescheduled FanFest for April 3rd. We want to reach out to the fans."

SBT: On the lighter side, it seems Brewers fans are romantically nostalgic about that old ball-and-glove team logo. What’s your take on that? Is that even on your radar, or do you have more important things to think about?
Attanasio: "It’s all important. I think the fans care about the logo and the branding of the team. But among other things, Major League Baseball has a year lead time. We’re going to consider a variety of things, including just having certain games where we wear the retro uniforms or maybe Sunday games or whatnot will be considered. Also, baseball is a business. We have people who always buy the retro uniforms, and if we have the new uniforms as well, we maybe sell more apparel than we do if we just go back to retro. And with that money, we’ll put better players on the field. We have to figure out a way to integrate it somehow. I know my kids love that logo."

SBT: Mine do too. So the old uniform will make some kind of return?
Attanasio: "We can’t do it this year because of the Major League Baseball lead time. The soonest we could see that would be next year. There’s a lot that goes into it. I view the branding of the team as important. We’ve kind of filed for it. The soonest you could see anything changing like that would be 2006, and it might be 2007 in order to do it right. Anything to do with the logo and the look of the team, that we have to do right."

SBT: Earlier, you referred to Rick Schlesinger. You’ve kept him and many of the other business operations and baseball operations people in place. You obviously think there’s some talent there.
Attanasio: "Absolutely. I felt that way both from a due diligence standpoint and with referrals. That being said, now that I’ve worked with the guys, starting with Rick and Bob (Quinn, Brewers chief financial officer), they’re both very strong. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with that. They’re both very strong intellectually. They’re both very hard workers. I hope they’ll both be working for us for a long time."

SBT: What about the notion of a team president? You don’t have one at this point. Rick Schlesinger seems like a pretty bright guy. Where does that stand as we speak?
Attanasio: "Where it stands is that we at some point we will consider whether or not the team needs a president. Right now, I’m still getting my arms around operations. Getting to know Rick better, getting to know Bob better and understand what we’re good at and what we’re bad at. I think the soonest this would come up for consideration would be this summer. And I think that’s somewhat of a testament to Rick, because he’s so strong. Things are running well. We’re going to assess what skill sets we need, if any, that aren’t there. We’re going to assess whether having an out-of-town owner means we should have a president or not. I seem to be getting around enough so far that, we may not need that face. Look, the best thing about Rick Schlesinger is he wants what’s best for the Milwaukee Brewers, whatever that is. But I wouldn’t wait for that to happen anytime soon."

SBT: Do have any thoughts about leveraging some of your national business connections to bear on behalf of the Brewers?
Attanasio: "Yeah, I’d like to be able to help out with national sponsors. That’s one area where we are lacking. We’ve got a lot of good local support. You don’t see a lot of national chains there, so I’m going to turn to that, for sure. That’s where I think most I can add value."

April 1, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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