As 2011 draws to a close we’re going to take a few words and recognize the passing of four individuals who shaped the Pacific Coast Business Times in innumerable ways.
• Pulitzer Prize winner Gil Spencer came out of retirement in the early 1990s to take over as editor of the deeply troubled Denver Post. He turned the news operations around with patience, a quiet touch and a fiercely competitive inner spirit. Fond of quoting from classic films, especially “All About Eve,” he was entertaining, irreverent and devoted to his staff. Spencer won his Pulitzer for editorial writing at the Trentonian, a New Jersey tabloid, at age 49. He loved tabloids and edited both the Philadelphia Daily News and New York Daily News before joining the Post, where Business Times founder Henry Dubroff was business editor.
• Joseph E. Robert Jr. understood real estate bubbles better than anyone in the world. In the early 1980s he was one of a handful of people to recognize the opportunity created by real estate workouts and he profited handsomely in the S&L crisis. A native of Maryland and fixture on the Washington, D.C., charity scene, he was a model for an entrepreneur fully engaged in public life. His frequent off-the-record chats with many journalists shaped key policy issues. It is unfortunate that as the financial crisis was breaking, Robert was diagnosed with brain cancer. His death at age 59 early in December deprived the nation of one of the smartest guys in the room when it comes to fixing America’s housing mess.
• With a touch of class and a gift for spotting undervalued media properties, Warren Hellman, who died Dec. 18 at age 77, was one of San Francisco’s most beloved financiers. A sounding board to many entrepreneurs, he became a partner at Lehman Brothers at age 26 and later formed his own private equity firm, Hellman & Friedman. He was a longtime board member at Levi Strauss & Co. and ran the celebrated Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in the Bay Area. He led by personal example, with a gift for finding ways to advocate for the social value of business without appearing to be self-promoting. A recent effort paved the way for pension reform in San Francisco, saving taxpayers an estimated $1.3 billion, according to the L.A. Times.
• Finally, there’s John E. Anderson, a titan of Southern California business. This self-made billionaire made a fortune through his franchise to distribute Budweiser and other alcoholic beverages, but he was also a savvy real estate investor who jumped at the chance to buy the Oxnard Financial Plaza as well as some of the most sought-after office properties in Westlake Village. A longtime subscriber to the Business Times and frequent source for articles, he relished in the role of friend and advisor to many entrepreneurs. A natural teacher and supporter of higher education, he was the driving force behind the fundraising effort that resulted in his namesake graduate school of management at UCLA. He died July 30 at age 93.
If there is a common thread in the lives of these four men it is that their success was derived from sticking with a few firmly held values and using success as a springboard for presenting those values on a bigger stage.
They will be missed.