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More Wealthy Families Are Throwing a Lifeline to Distressed Businesses

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During the pandemic, wealthy families have continued to use their investment pools, known as family offices, to gain access to the type of high-return opportunities once reserved for institutional investors. But they are taking a more hands-on role in those financial decisions.

These family offices have chosen to bypass private equity and venture capital funds — which have high minimum investments and sizable fees — to invest directly in companies, either by themselves or with other significantly wealthy families, a report released on Friday found. And they are taking a greater entrepreneurial role in their investments, which would not have been possible if they had put their money into large funds for other people to manage.

Direct investment in businesses began to rise after the last recession, climbing 206 percent from 2010 to 2015. Last year, it grew 11 percent.

Now, half of all family offices in the world make direct investments in companies, according to the report, which was released by Fintrx, a data and research company, and sponsored by Charles Schwab’s family office arm. That number jumped to 83 percent for single-family offices, compared with offices that serve multiple families, with many of those investments focused on areas where the family had originally made its money.

“Family offices add value in times of crisis,” said Russ D’Argento, founder and chief executive of Fintrx. “That’s a big component of how they stand out and can be different from other fund structures.”

To be sure, the wealthy are able to invest differently in the pandemic from everyone else. Nearly 1.2 million workers filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. The tally has exceeded one million claims for 20 consecutive weeks, extraordinarily high by historical standards. And millions of Americans are worried about paying their bills and not being evicted from their homes.

For the wealthiest families, however, what has been an economic and health crisis for others is an opportunity to make money by throwing a financial lifeline to distressed businesses. The stock market may have rebounded quickly as investors looked past growing hot spots around the country, but these family offices are betting that the public markets are overvalued and that more predictable and steadier returns are to be had through private investments.

“There’s been an incredible recovery in the stock market, but how do I commit more to the public markets when I’m looking at these valuations and it’s still a rocky road ahead?” said Eric Becker, who made his wealth by investing in health care companies and more recently founded Cresset Capital, a multifamily office.

The interest in direct investments has grown in the pandemic. There was a short pause when the initial stay-at-home orders were issued, but interest has begun to rise again, especially among newer family offices, or those formed in the last five years that still retain their entrepreneurial natures.

“Once the data started coming in and talk about therapeutics began, people started seeing a path toward normalcy,” Mr. Becker said. “Whether it’s two years, a year, six months out, it didn’t matter. They could see that path, whether it was distressed companies or companies that just needed some capital.”

Credit…Fintrx

The Fintrx report found that families generally invested in industries similar to those in which they had made their initial wealth. Technology led the way, with tech-funded family offices committing 82 percent of their direct investments to tech companies. Real estate families were second with more than two-thirds of their investments in real estate.

“Families initially invest in the same areas where they have experience,” said Paul Ferguson, managing director of the Schwab Advisor Family Office, which sponsored the Fintrx report. He added that family offices could help preserve private businesses through their investments.

“They have a lot of capital to invest, and they’re in a pretty unique position because of the long-term nature of their investing,” he said. “This is where their patient capital is very important.”

Simply having wealth, of course, does not make someone a good investor. Direct investing has its critics, who say the strategy is far riskier than its proponents admit.

For one, private equity firms have trillions of dollars sitting in their funds and are already looking for deals. So when someone with an investment opportunity approaches a family worth hundreds of millions of dollars, alarm bells go off.

“We’re always wary when someone pitches us an idea,” said Paul Karger, a co-founder and managing partner of TwinFocus, which works with 40 families that collectively have put $7 billion at the firm. “The first question is, how did this Texas oil deal miss everyone in Texas and end up on our doorstep in Back Bay Boston?”

Having sufficient selection options is something that even large private equity funds have to consider; many of them examine hundreds of deals before investing in one. But when it comes to direct investments, Mr. Karger said, he also is wary if professional investors are not part of the deal.

Mr. Karger said his firm advised most families to participate in direct investing through deals in commercial real estate — like apartments — that are easier to value and come loaded with tax advantages. He also counsels his clients to invest in deals through private equity funds and focus on the funds’ performance, not on the fees they charge, which are typically a 2 percent management fee and a 20 percent cut on an investment’s return.

“There’s a cost to doing something right,” he said. “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

But Mr. D’Argento countered that family offices had become more sophisticated and had hired experienced investors in the last five years.

“They’re starting to look, feel and act like institutions,” he said. “With that added talent comes the ability to do more deals. It’s less of a cottage industry.”

Another risk in a moment like this, when there are many distressed companies looking for investors, is missing an opportunity to leverage the “family alpha,” or the operating knowledge that a family has in the area from which its wealth came, said Kristi Kuechler, managing director of client relations at Vernal Point Advisors, a multifamily office.

“There are families who have as much knowledge of a sector as a private equity firm,” Ms. Kuechler said.

When those families join with other families who made their wealth in different sectors, they could end up with shared family alpha. Or they could end up with less of an advantage than they think. That’s where the selection of partner families is crucial, particularly now when there are many more opportunities.

“What’s happened after this incredible increase in direct investment is people feel they need to diversify their private investment portfolio as if it were an asset class,” she said. “Now, they’re co-investing alongside other families, so they’re not exploiting their families’ distinct edge.”

That edge in understanding what businesses may be struggling but are still viable is important in the pandemic, she said. Many wealthy families went through their own difficult business cycles at some point.

“It does feel like families want a more tangible investment that they can see on the ground, and that can be a really attractive opportunity,” Ms. Kuechler said. “Families are both quite cautious in investing cash, but they’re also feeling pretty opportunistic with companies that look like they can navigate this particular uncertainty quite well.”

That’s good for a family office’s returns, but it’s just as good for that small business that can be saved by the investment.

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Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct Head To Business Owner: ‘Reinforcements Aren’t Coming Any Time Soon’ – WCCO

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s no long-term plan, and reinforcements aren’t coming anytime soon.

That’s what the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct said in an email to a business owner who shared that his employees are scared to go to work.

READ MORE: Temporary Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct Plan Dropped After Negotiations With Property Owners Reach Impasse

The neighborhood block of shops near East 48th Street and Chicago Avenue has felt the impact of recent crime. Craig Paulson owns Pedego Electric Bikes.

“Couple robberies. Two, three robberies in the area, and some break-ins and a couple of crazy stunts,” Paulson said.

Surveillance video shows a group accused of robbing Chad Stamps’ wife inside her gift shop, 14 Hill, during the lunch hour earlier this month.

“So they stole our car, stole our wallet, checkbook, everything,” Stamps said.

Stamps says one of the suspects punched someone trying to help her.

There’s a window broken at Town Hall Tap. Someone opened fire inside the Pizza Hut. The employee who was there has now quit. And a car flying down the street crashed into a bus stop and business.

Russell Hrubesky lives and works nearby.

“I’m scared for my coworkers, but it’s worrisome to see people that I care about just kind of in a dangerous area,” Hrubesky said.

A nearby business relayed a similar message to the inspector of the 3rd Precinct via email. They also sharing it’s hard to find employees who want to work in the area, and they are asking for a long-term plan.

Here is the response they received from Inspector Sean McGinty:

As far as a long-term plan I don’t have one. I have lost 30% of my street officers since the end of May. Budget cuts from COVID-19 and an additional 1.5 million from the council in August we have let go 17 CSO’s and cancelled a recruit class of 29. A potential Cadet class slated for January of 2021 was also eliminated. I takes about a year to get a police Officer onto the streets with hiring, backgrounds and field training so reinforcements aren’t coming anytime soon. We are doing everything we can with what we have. I hate to see great businesses like yours and the rest of your corridor being victimized and feeling unsafe. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

“It does erode the confidence in the neighborhood of the people and being able to feel safe coming down here,” Stamps said.

The Stamps store was hit a year ago, too. They say they’re not going anywhere, but lawlessness can’t continue.

“Nothing changed before and nothing’s changed now, except that these criminals have gotten more emboldened about doing this,” Stamps said.

Pedego Electric Bikes recently added a lock and doorbell.

“To say it doesn’t make you a little bit nervous, of course it does. And nobody wants a gun drawn on them. It’s always in the back of your mind,” Paulson said.

Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, gave WCCO this statement:

The Inspector gave an excellent summary. I think the only plan city leadership has is to further decimate its police department. Businesses and people will continue to flee the city. And rightfully so.

Minneapolis City Councilmember Jeremy Schroeder, whose ward covers part of the third precinct, said this:

The Minneapolis Police Department currently has a budget of more than $180,000,000. Chief Arradondo reassured the City Council and the public this week that MPD is fully staffed in terms of patrols. The inspector’s stated lack of a plan is frustrating given the severity of safety concerns and the fact that MPD today has one of the largest budgets of any City department.

Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins gave WCCO this statement:

I am deeply disturbed by the increase in violent break-in and robberies specifically in this area near 48th and Chicago, and throughout the city. Small business is the lifeblood of this community and we cannot afford to allow them to continue to suffer these losses. Inspector McGinty and his staff have made some arrests in these incidents, and will continue to do their jobs with the resources that have on hand, but we know that preventing crime has to be a part of our Continuum of Public Safety as well. That means more investments in job training and opportunities, access to safe and affordable housing and other measures to steer young people towards positive pursuits.

The message from the community: City leaders need to sort out what’s going on.

“Kick it into gear, man. You got to figure it out,” Hrubesky said.

The inspector’s email came just a day after the chief assured city council members there were enough patrol officers to respond.

Minneapolis Police told WCCO, “In these very challenging times of COVID, budget cuts and retirements, the MPD continues to evaluate and reallocate the resources that we currently have to best serve the City of Minneapolis, focusing on the core responsibilities of a police department; responding to 911 calls and investigations.”

Police also said the inspector was referencing the George Floyd memorial at East Street and Chicago Avenue when he said he didn’t have a plan. The business owner says that site wasn’t mentioned in their exchange.

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Southport Lanes Bowling Alley Going Out Of Business After 98 Years Due To COVID-19 – CBS Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Southport Lanes bowling alley and its predecessor, the Nook, survived the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu, and some of Chicago’s worst weather – but not COVID-19.

The virus has wiped out yet another well-known Chicago business.

As CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported Thursday, stepping into Southport Lanes, 3325 N. Southport Ave., is like stepping back in time. It’s a place where people, not machines, set the pins – and it’s one of the few places left in the country where that happens.

“So here’s the bowling lanes that have been around since 1920,” Southport Lanes general manager Phil Carneol said as he displayed the vintage setup.

From bartender to general manager, Carneol has spent more time at Southport Lanes than he has at home.

“I started bartending here when I was a snotty-nosed kid in 1991,” Carneol said.

The building was built in 1900 by Schlitz Brewery and was originally named the Nook. It was renamed Southport Lanes in 1922, when the 98-year history that is now ending began.

And if the walls could talk, you probably wouldn’t want to know what they’d say.

“This was an old speakeasy, where supposedly, there was a den of ill repute upstairs,” Carneol said. “Supposedly, there was gambling in the back.”

Southport Lanes’ website notes that there is still a dumbwaiter that was once used to bring refreshments to the escorts at the brothel upstairs and their clients. There is also a legend that Mayor Anton Cermak once held a weekly poker game in one of the secret rooms.

After prohibition, a new addition was built east of the bar room. It originally housed a gambling facility with ties to racetracks round the country. As the website put it, “In essence, it was an illegal off track betting parlor.”

But those same walls that survived Prohibition, the 1918 flu, and world wars will not survive COVID-19.

“I was waiting for the phone call,” Carneol said, “and I see the numbers.”

According to a study by Yelp, this is part of a national trend. From the beginning of March through the end of August, Chicago businesses have seen nearly 2,000 temporary closures and more than 3,000 permanent closures.

“We started having to sanitize bowling balls and pool sticks,” Carneol said.

Tedious tasks, expensive cleaning, and less room for paying diners means Southport Lanes can’t make ends meet.

“You’re just not making any money,” Carneol said. “The concern I have is there’s a lot of people who are going to be out of work.”

And for the place that has served the North Side of Chicago for almost a century, Carneol said it is like getting ready to hug an old friend for the last time.

“I’m going to miss the drips on Lane 4, you know?” he said. “It’s like you know your own kid, you know? It’s like you know your own family member.”

Southport Lanes opened for the evening as usual on Thursday, but you have a week and a half to say your goodbyes.

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Schumpeter – What is stakeholder capitalism? | Business

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“WHEN DID Walmart grow a conscience?” The question, asked approvingly in a Boston Globe headline last year, would have made Milton Friedman turn in his grave. In a landmark New York Times Magazine essay, whose 50th anniversary fell on September 13th, the Nobel-prizewinning economist sought from the first paragraph to tear to shreds any notion that businesses should have social responsibilities. Employment? Discrimination? Pollution? Mere “catchwords”, he declared. Only businessmen could have responsibilities. And their sole one as managers, as he saw it, was to a firm’s owners, whose desires “generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society”. It is hard to find a punchier opening set of paragraphs anywhere in the annals of business.

It is also hard to find a better example of their embodiment than Walmart. Listed on the stockmarket the year Friedman’s article was published, it morphed from Sam Walton’s hometown grocery store into the “beast of Bentonville”, with a reputation for low prices as well as beating up suppliers and bossing staff. Its shareholders made out like bandits; since the early 1970s, its share price has ballooned by a factor of more than 2,000, compared with 31 for the S&P 500 index of large firms. Yet in recent years the company has mellowed. It now champions green energy and gay rights. The Globe’s tribute appeared shortly after Doug McMillon, its chief executive, reacted to savage shootings in Walmart stores by ending the sale of some ammunition and lobbying the government for more gun control. This year he became chairman of the Business Roundtable, a coven of American business leaders who profess they want to abandon Friedman’s doctrine of shareholder primacy in favour of customers, employees and others.

In partisan America, riven by gender, race and income inequality, such “stakeholderism” is all the rage. But there is pushback. To celebrate the half-centenary of Friedman’s essay, the University of Chicago, his alma mater, held an online forum at its Booth School of Business in which advocates of his creed argued that giving bosses too much latitude may make things worse for stakeholders, not better. The crux of the problem, they pointed out, was the near-impossibility of balancing the competing interests of stakeholders in any way that does not give God-like powers to executives (what Friedman called the all-in-one “legislator, executive and jurist”). Usefully, some provided data to support their arguments.

Start with Walmart’s ammunition bans—a firecracker lobbed into one of America’s most divisive issues. The retailer portrayed them as mere safety measures, but the National Rifle Association, a lobby group, said they pandered to “anti-gun elites” and predicted customers would boycott Walmart. Indeed some did. Marcus Painter of Saint Louis University has crunched smartphone data measuring foot traffic before and after the restrictions. He found that on average monthly store visits to Walmart in heavily Republican districts fell by up to 10% compared with rival stores; in strongly Democratic areas they rose by as much as 3.4%. Moreover, the apparent Republican boycott continued for months. (Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.)

It is possible that the retailer’s stance helped win over new (perhaps wealthier) consumers. It may even have benefited Walmart’s bottom line—and shareholders. Yet it also showed that amid increasingly polarised politics, what is good for one set of stakeholders may be anathema to another. Whether it is Hobby Lobby, a Christian chain of craft stores from Oklahoma, denying staff contraceptive insurance on religious grounds, or Nike supporting an American football player’s decision to protest against police brutality, some stakeholders will always object to what is done on behalf of others. There are more quotidian trade-offs. A General Motors shareholder who is also an employee may want higher salaries rather than higher profits; a dollar spent on pollution control may be a dollar less spent on worker retraining. But weighing up the costs and benefits to different groups is fraught with difficulty.

Some bosses claim they can do this, keen to win public praise and placate politicians. But they are insincere stewards, according to Lucian Bebchuk, Kobi Kastiel and Roberto Tallarita, of Harvard Law School. Their analysis of so-called constituency statutes in more than 30 states, which give bosses the right to consider stakeholder interests when considering the sale of their company, is sobering. It found that between 2000 and 2019 bosses did not negotiate for any restrictions on the freedom of the buyer to fire employees in 95% of sales of public firms to private-equity groups. Executives feathered the nests of shareholders—and themselves.

Talk is cheap

Such hypocrisy is rife. Aneesh Raghunandan of the London School of Economics and Shiva Rajgopal of Columbia Business School argued earlier this year that many of the 183 firms that signed the Business Roundtable statement on corporate purpose had failed to “walk the talk” in the preceding four years. They had higher environmental and labour compliance violations than peers and spent more on lobbying, for instance. Mr Bebchuk and others argue that the “illusory hope” of stakeholderism could make things worse for stakeholders by impeding policies, such as tax reform, antitrust regulation and carbon taxes, if it encourages the government blithely to give executives freedom to regulate their own activities.

To be sure, trade-offs are an inevitable part of shareholder capitalism, too: between short- and long-term investors, for instance. But stakeholders outnumber shareholders, making for more disparate interests to balance. Moreover, by investing in funds linked to corporate values, or by directly influencing boards, shareholders can show that their goals increasingly extend beyond profit maximisation to broader societal welfare. Shareholders retain primacy, as they should, but they are free to push for different trade-offs if they prefer.

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “The perils of stakeholderism”

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