The L.A. Dodgers have been getting all the ink, but they aren’t the only recent acquisition by Chicago financier Mark Walter. They’re not even the most important, at least not from John Penn’s perch at the old Grubstake Building in downtown Crested Butte, Colo.
Ask Penn about “the new owner” and he’ll be talking landlords, not baseball. Last year, Walter bought the building that houses Penn’s tobacco shop, a Nepalese restaurant and an art-glass gallery in the ski resort.
Penn wasn’t sure what to expect from an out-of-town owner with buckets of cash. The same could be said for Dodgers fans waiting to see what Walter and his partners will do with the team if their record $2.15-billion deal goes through.
Although Magic Johnson is the famous public face of the new ownership team, it’s Walter who will be the controlling owner. That means he’ll have a hand in everything from player salaries to improvements at Dodger Stadium.
From Colorado, at least, the scouting report is good. Walter not only didn’t raise rents, the tobbacconist said, he also paid some contractors who said they were owed money by the previous owner.
“We thought that was pretty cool, since he wasn’t really obligated to do that,” Penn said. “We don’t know what the future holds, but he seems to be a fairly square shooter. He seems like a decent guy.”
“Decent” is one word often used to describe Walter, 51, the chief executive of Guggenheim Partners, a financial services company that manages more than $125 billion in assets. He’s also private, unassuming and almost studiously unflashy.
Born in Iowa and schooled at Creighton University and Northwestern University Law School, Walter has a net worth of $1.3 billion, according to Wealth-X, a Singapore business-intelligence firm that assesses the fortunes of the ultra rich and ranks Walter seventh among Major League Baseball owners. Walter is not on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires.
Most of Walter’s fortune, Wealth-X says, derives from his stake in Guggenheim Partners, a 12-year-old firm founded with family money by a descendant of Meyer Guggenheim, the industrialist and mining magnate who came to this country from his native Switzerland in the 1840s.
Unlike some others in his lofty economic orbit, namely current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, Walter until recently was seldom in the news — and apparently liked it that way. When the Chicago Tribune contacted about three dozen of that city’s top bankers, investors and power brokers after the winning bid was announced last month, most had never met Walter and none said they knew him well.
“I’m a fairly quiet and private person,” he said at the time. “So I haven’t sought publicity.”
Through a spokesman, Walter declined to be interviewed for this article or to provide a detailed resume or other personal information.
The Chicago Cubs season ticket holder did speak with Times reporters when the Dodgers sale was announced and said he would be content to stay in the background with his new team. Longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten will run the operation.
“I’m a baseball fan, but I’m not qualified to make baseball decisions, and I don’t want to pretend to be,” said Walter, who was over 20 when he saw his first big-league game in person. “I’m here to support and help my people as much as I can. I’m here to cheer as loud as I can.”
Tracy Sankot recalled Walter as low-key and easygoing when both attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids in the late 1970s.
“He was always one of the smartest guys in class, plain and simple, and fairly quiet,” said Sankot, who was on the golf team with Walter. “He wasn’t the kind of guy who offended anybody or made fun of anybody. He was just a genuinely good guy at that time and you could tell he was destined for success. He was bright, but he never lorded that over people.”
Walter was an accounting major at Creighton, where he played intramural sports and was a member of the Philosophy Society, among other activities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1982 and graduated three years later from law school.
He joined a Chicago law firm and later worked for First Chicago Capital Markets, but left in 1996 to found an investment firm, Liberty Hampshire Co., according to reports published at the time. While there he met J. Todd Morley, who would connect him with the Guggenheim fortune.
Morley was chief executive of Links Holdings, a company that dealt in mortgage assets, when he and Walter met in 1999. Morley had been working with Peter Lawson-Johnston II to form Guggenheim Partners, and all three men hit it off, said a company insider who was not authorized to speak publicly about the relationship.