The Post 200 Roadshow: Chatting With Ted Leonsis
By Dan Beyers
Welcome to a new feature we're calling the Post 200 Roadshow. Each week or so we plan to drop in on the region's biggest companies, nonprofits, employers and law and lobby firms to have a look around and chat up their executives.
The Roadshow's inaugural stop is the offices of Lincoln Holdings atop the Ballston Common Mall in Arlington, where we sat down with Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis.
You get to Ted's office by taking an ever-so-slow parking garage elevator up to the eighth floor, where the company makes its home in the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a 137,000-square-foot facility that includes offices and two indoor NHL-size ice rinks (seating about 1,200).
Ovechkin wasn't on the ice when we stopped by; instead the rinks were being used by local kids for a free skate and lessons.
In fact, the place had the laid-back feel of an office in the middle of August, which made sense since the hockey season had just recently concluded for the Caps. So sleepy were the surroundings we were tempted to play a little table hockey in the hallway.
The iceplex is just one of Leonsis's three offices. Another is in the District. Ted is chairman of Revolution Money, a credit card venture he's launched with former AOL chairman Steve Case. (Think of it as a cross between PayPal and Mastercard with lower merchant fees, he explains.)
Ted also still has an office and secretary at AOL in Dulles, where the company has bestowed on him the title of vice chairman emeritus for his years of service there.
"I don't use it too much anymore," Leonsis tells us. He considers himself now more or less retired -"a friend of the court" - and has been selling his shares while "rooting for the stock to go up."
Even in retirement, Leonsis's interests are so varied these days that he went to a white board to lay it all out for us.
He is the majority owner of Lincoln Holdings, which owns the Capitals hockey team and Mystics women's basketball squad. The company also has a 44 percent stake in Washington Sports and Entertainment, the Abe Pollin-run partnership that owns the NBA's Washington Wizards, DC's Verizon Center and the Baltimore-Washington Ticketmaster franchise.
Leonsis says he may lose money annually on his teams, but the franchises' values have been steadily increasing over the years. All told, the company's assets might be worth $1 billion, he said.
In addition to Lincoln Holdings, Ted has investments in 15 companies, the most prominent being Revolution Money and Clearspring, an Internet company that makes ad-supported widgets for distributing Web content. Clearspring just snagged about $18 million in a new round of funding from venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, Novak Biddle Venture Partners and other current investors.
And then there's his charitable activities and his film projects. He's produced two movies. One, "Nanking," focused on the atrocities of the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China, in the early days of World War II. The other, "Kicking It," is about a global soccer championship involving teams of homeless men. Both documentaries have been shown at Sundance, turned into DVDs and the rights bought by television.
Ted teases us with hints about plans for using the Internet to go around the traditional movie distribution model, particularly for independent films. He asks us to stay tuned for an announcement.
In the meantime, he blogs. A lot. Mostly in the morning, before the day really gets going.
In addition, he's just started writing a book about happiness and self-actualization, and gives us his five rules to live by.
Rule No. 1: Be an active participant in many different communities.
How does he keep his own communities straight?
It can be tricky. Ted said he spent part of a recent morning workout on the treadmill thinking about his schedule for the day, which included appointments focusing on several different businesses.
Later, he smiles and says with a twinkle that he loves to figure out ways to combine his passions.
"I can mash things up better than anyone I know," he boasts.
Once he gets an idea for a new company he says he goes about assembling a team to pull it off. He says he's learned over the years what he does well and what's best to leave to others. He likes to think he's good at sales and promotion. Then he looks for a grinder, someone who would be good at executing the details. After that, he tries to hire a top-notch numbers guy.
He says he doesn't lose sleep over operational issues. Rather, he's much likely to lie awake wondering if he's moving fast enough or if he's hired the right people.
We got the impression that Ted is a restless-yet-satisfied sort, always looking for the next opportunity over the horizon. We ask if he's looking for another AOL-like home run and he tells us that AOL was his best and worst investment. The best because it enabled him to build a fortune capable of buying a hockey team. And worst because he held on to much of the stock after the price plunged following the company's merger with Time Warner.
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