Dell's founder, Michael Dell, at a technology conference in 2010.
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But his financial empire -- estimated at $16 billion -- occupies the 21st floor of a dark glass skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
It is there that MSD Capital, started by Mr. Dell 15 years ago to manage his fortune, has quietly built a reputation as one of the smartest investors on Wall Street. By amassing a prodigious portfolio of stocks, companies, real estate and timberland, Mr. Dell has reduced his exposure to the volatile technology sector and branched out into businesses as diverse as dentistry and landscaping.
Now, Mr. Dell is on the verge of making one of the biggest investments of his life. The 47-year-old billionaire and his private equity backers are locked in talks to acquire Dell, the company he started with $1,000 as a teenager three decades ago, in a leveraged buyout worth more than $20 billion. MSD could play a role in the Dell takeover, according to people briefed on the deal.
The private equity firm Silver Lake has been in negotiations to join with Mr. Dell on a transaction, along with other potential partners like wealthy Asian investors or foreign funds. Mr. Dell would be expected to roll his nearly 16 percent ownership of the company into the buyout, a stake valued at about $3.5 billion. He could also contribute additional personal money as part of the buyout.
That money is managed by MSD, among the more prominent so-called family offices that are set up to handle the personal investments of the wealthy. Others with large family offices include Bill Gates, whose Microsoft wealth financed the firm Cascade Investment, and New York's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who set up his firm, Willett Advisors, in 2010 to manage his personal and philanthropic assets.
"Some of these family offices are among the world's most sophisticated investors and have the capital and talent to compete with the largest private equity firms and hedge funds," said John P. Rompon, managing partner of McNally Capital, which helps structure private equity deals for family offices.
A spokesman for MSD declined to comment for this article. The buyout talks could still fall apart.
In 1998, Mr. Dell, then just 33 years old -- and his company's stock worth three times what it is today -- decided to diversify his wealth and set up MSD. He staked the firm with $400 million of his own money, effectively starting his own personal money-management business.
To head the operation, Mr. Dell hired Glenn R. Fuhrman, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, and John C. Phelan, a principal at ESL Investments, the hedge fund run by Edward S. Lampert. He knew both men from his previous dealings with Wall Street. Mr. Fuhrman led a group at Goldman that marketed specialized investments like private equity and real estate to wealthy families like the Dells. And Mr. Dell was an early investor in Mr. Lampert's fund.
Mr. Fuhrman and Mr. Phelan still run MSD and preside over a staff of more than 100 overseeing Mr. Dell's billions and the assets in his family foundation. MSD investments include a stock portfolio, with positions in the apparel company PVH, owner of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, and DineEquity, the parent of IHOP and Applebee's.
Source: The New York Times | PETER LATTMAN