Thursday, January 18, 2001
Friends of Bush drawn into spotlight
Reynolds and DeWitt usually private
By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer
They are among Cincinnati's biggest private investors, but this weekend, Mercer Reynolds and Bill DeWitt will showcase their newest project: President George W. Bush.
As co-chairmen of Mr. Bush's Inaugural Committee, the pair has spent more than a month in Washington, raising $20 million to fund dozens of parties and events.
Like baseball and golf, it is a labor of love for the Indian Hill residents. Their friendship with the new president born in the 1980s Texas oil boom is one of the few things that could drag Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Reynolds into the public eye.
Mercer just couldn't give up, Gabrielle Reynolds, Mr. Reynolds' wife, says of the just-completed campaign. I think the boys feel they've done everything they could.
MERCER REYNOLDS III
Born: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Lives: Indian Hill
Education: Undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, master's degree in business administration from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Came to Cincinnati: To work for the Coca-Cola Bottling Corp. of Cincinnati in the late 1960s. Eventually moved into the brokerage business at several local firms. Formed Reynolds DeWitt & Co. in 1979.
Family: Wife Gabrielle, five children.
WILLIAM DEWITT JR.
Born: St. Louis
Lives: Indian Hill
Education: Undergraduate degree at Yale University, master's degree in business administration from Harvard University.
Came to Cincinnati: Moved here when his father, William DeWitt, bought the Reds in the 1960s. Formed Reynolds DeWitt & Co. in 1979.
Family: Wife Kathy, four children, four grandchildren.
For Mr. Reynolds, 55, and Mr. DeWitt, 59, the public glare of the Bush campaign is a departure from their quarter-century in business.
They have scrupulously avoided the spotlight while investing in all sorts of companies, from three major-league baseball teams to Arby's restaurants to Buddy's Carpet stores and the Newport Aquarium.
But when Mr. Bush asked for help in his campaign, the two were among the first to respond.
It's crazy, Kathy DeWitt, Mr. DeWitt's wife, says. It's like having a cousin (running for president). How can you say no?
They have raised millions of dollars for Mr. Bush, including about two-thirds of the $30 million goal for the Inauguration. They also were co-chairman of the finance committee for the Ohio Bush-Cheney campaign.
On Aug. 30, a fund-raiser at their houses in Indian Hill helped raise more than $5 million for the Bush campaign and other Republican causes. Party insiders called it one of the most successful fund-raisers in the country.
It included a private fund-raiser at Mr. Reynolds' home for big contributors, followed by a gathering in a tent on Mr. Reynolds' lawn of 400 to 500 people who have given $1,000 each. Mr. DeWitt later hosted a private dinner for major donors at his house.
The task for the Inauguration is a tall order: To raise up to $100,000 each from up to 250 businesses or individuals. Organizers already have received the maximum gifts from several Cincinnatians, including Reds owner Carl Lindner, his American Financial Group Inc., produce dealer Robert Castellini and Cintas Corp. chairman Richard Farmer.
One recipient of fund-raising calls from Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Reynolds is Jack Wyant, head of the Blue Chip Venture Co.
Their pitch is really built around what a fine person George Bush is and what a great president he would be, Mr. Wyant says. He contributed $1,000 to Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.
Mr. Reynolds says the fund-raising is natural because he and Mr. DeWitt believe Mr. Bush can unite the country. The theme of the inauguration is Celebrating America's Spirit Together.''
I would always support him, he's my friend, Mr. Reynolds says of Mr. Bush. But I would not be actively engaged if I didn't believe in what he's trying to do.
Even on Inauguration Eve, Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Reynolds seem eager to get back to their stable of investments in Cincinnati.
We were saying the other day, "I don't think we've worked this hard in 25 years,' Mr. Reynolds said in an interview last week.
I think it's going to be fun, Mr. DeWitt said by phone from Washington Tuesday. But we're not really political animals. We're not passionate about a number of political causes. Other than this.
In Cincinnati, the pair has earned a reputation as hands-on investors willing to take risks. For more than two decades, they have made nearly every investment together, operating through their investment banking company, Reynolds DeWitt & Co.
The pair is part of an informal investment club that includes Dudley Taft of Taft Broadcasting Inc., produce operator Robert Castellini and the Williams brothers of North American Properties.
All four are investors in the St. Louis Cardinals, which Mr. DeWitt runs.
For Mr. Reynolds and Mr. DeWitt, those investments have included Coca-Cola Bottling Corp. of Cincinnati, one of the pair's first investments together. They also were part of a group that owned WLW-AM in the mid-1980s, and were among the original investors in the former Riverfront Coliseum.
Baseball a passion
But apart from his other investments, baseball clearly is Mr. DeWitt's passion. His father, William DeWitt Sr., was owner of the Reds from 1962 to 1967, and the son has seemed poised to buy the Reds on several occasions.
Bill DeWitt Jr. has spent his entire life in baseball. As a batboy for the 1951 St. Louis Browns, he took part in one of baseball's most famous scenes, lending his uniform to 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel for his one career at-bat. The uniform now hangs in at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y..
If he could afford to have baseball consume him, he would, Kathy DeWitt says. He just adores it.
Mr. Reynolds, has invested much of his energy into Reynolds Plantation, a luxury golf resort near Atlanta. Built on land first purchased by his grandfather, Reynolds Plantation includes more than 8,000 acres, three golf courses and about 1,000 homes.
Mr. Reynolds and Mr. DeWitt first met in the late 1960s, when Mr. Reynolds came to Cincinnati to work for the Coca-Cola Bottling Corp. They both worked in the 1970s at Gradison & Co. before forming Reynolds DeWitt & Co. in 1979.
Mrs. Reynolds says the partnership with Mr. DeWitt has lasted because of trust.
They're the bottom line. They make all those decisions together, she says. It isn't often that partnerships last that long.
Although the investment styles have changed with the times, the style of Reynolds DeWitt & Co. has been as steady and understated as its soft-spoken owners.
We're pretty good compromisers, and we're both pretty even-tempered, Mr. Reynolds said. We don't get excited easily.
The Bush partnership
It was a partnership in Texas in the summer of 1980 that first introduced Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Reynolds to a young George W. Bush.
After Mr. DeWitt's father sold the Reds, he started investing in the Texas oil business. One of those involved a distant relative named Paul Rey, who knew Mr. Bush.
The younger Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Reynolds in 1979 set up a company called Spectrum 7 Energy Corp. In a tale now legend in political circles, they bought Mr. Bush's struggling Arbusto Energy concern in 1984.
Critics of Mr. Bush have speculated that the Spectrum 7 deal was designed to bail him out of financial difficulty, but Mr. Reynolds dismisses the theory as baloney.
Bill and I weren't oil operators, Mr. Reynolds says. We recognized that we couldn't run the company out of Cincinnati. We needed to find someone who shared our management criteria ... That's why we picked George. He needed our marketing skills and our marketing base. We needed his management acumen and his people.
By the late 1980s, Mr. Bush, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. DeWitt were out of the oil business. In 1989, Mr. DeWitt heard of the opportunity to buy the Texas Rangers and got his friend Mr. Bush involved. Mr. Bush became the public face on the Rangers, the head cheerleader and club president.
That deal also included Cincinnati investors Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Castellini and Mr. Taft. Mr. Bush reportedly reaped more than $15 million on a $606,000 investment when the Rangers were sold to Dallas investor Tom Hicks in 1998.
He (Mr. Bush) did a fabulous job, Mr. Reynolds says. He had all the connections. He knew Eddie Chiles (who sold to the Bush-DeWitt-Reynolds group). Eddie loved George. I think that made a big difference in our ability to buy the team.
Even though Mr. Reynolds and Mr. DeWitt went on to own other baseball teams, the friendship with Mr. Bush has grown from there. They were natural choices to help raise money and influence for Mr. Bush's Ohio presidential campaign.
Friends call it nearly the equal of baseball and the Reynolds Plantation as a passion for the investors, noting that they were friends before Mr. Bush's political career began.
Let's put it this way, Kathy DeWitt says of the future president and first lady. Their phone number in Midland is in my book right here.
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