An eighty-year-old Swiss billionaire who has his home in Wyoming and donated hundreds of millions to environmental causes is a surprising new entrant in the bid for Tribune Publishing, the big newspaper chain that until recently appeared to have fallen into the hands of a New York City Hedge fund.
Hansjörg Wyss (pronounced Hans-yorg Vees), the former managing director of the medical device manufacturer Synthes, said in an interview on Friday that he had agreed to apply for Tribune Publishing with Maryland hotelier Stewart W. Bainum Jr. An offer that could turn Alden Global Capital’s plan to completely take over the company on its head.
Mr Wyss, who gave away some of his fortune for wildlife habitat conservation in Wyoming, Montana and Maine, said he was motivated to join the Tribune’s offer because he believed in the need for a robust press. “I have the opportunity to do 500 times more than I do now,” he said.
Alden, which already owns around 32 percent of Tribune Publishing shares, is known for drastically cutting the cost of the newspapers it controls through its MediaNews Group subsidiary. Last month, the hedge fund reached an agreement with Tribune, whose newspapers include The Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, and The Chicago Tribune, to buy the remainder of the company’s stock for $ 17.25 apiece.
As part of that plan, Mr. Bainum, a lifelong Marylander, agreed to start a nonprofit group that would buy The Sun and two other Maryland newspapers owned by Tribune von Alden for $ 65 million. However, soon after this settlement, negotiations between Mr Bainum and Alden came to a standstill. This prompted Mr. Bainum, chairman of Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, to make an offer for the entire Tribune on March 16, beating Alden’s number with an offer of $ 18.50 per share.
The company valued this offer at around $ 650 million. The Alden Accords valued Tribune at around $ 630 million.
Tribune was not influenced by Mr. Bainum’s offer. A securities notification filed on Tuesday revealed that the company’s board of directors had recommended shareholders approve Alden’s offer. At the same time, the Tribune Board gave Mr. Bainum permission to continue funding his higher bid.
He’s done just that by teaming up with Mr. Wyss, who said in the interview that he plans to own the company’s flagship while he and Mr. Bainum are benefactors for the Tribune’s seven other subway dailies search, including The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.
“He made this bid because he wanted The Baltimore Sun,” said Mr. Wyss, referring to Mr. Bainum. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. And I have to do The Tribune even better than I do now. ‘“
The agreement between Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum is non-binding, said Mr. Wyss. He added that it had come together in the past few days and was detailed in a letter he sent to Mr Bainum on Friday. A person aware of the discussions between Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum confirmed that each man planned to allocate $ 100 million for the $ 650 million offering, and Mr. Wyss said he was ready to provide additional funding for the debt financing.
Mr Bainum declined to comment. A spokesman for three members of the Tribune’s board of directors not affiliated with Alden declined to comment. An Alden spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A decade ago, Mr. Wyss led the sale of Synthes to Johnson & Johnson for approximately $ 20 billion. Mr. Wyss and his family – a daughter, Amy, also lives in Wyoming – had the largest interest in Synthes and owned nearly half the shares.
The Tribune sale, which the newspaper company plans to complete by July, requires regulatory approval and the approval of the company’s shareholders, who represent two-thirds of the non-Alden stock. Medical entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns the Los Angeles Times with his wife Michele B. Chan, has enough Tribune stock to smash the Alden deal himself. Dr. Soon-Shiong declined to comment on Saturday.
Mr. Wyss said he would be a civil administrator of the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t want to see any other newspaper that has a chance to increase the amount of truth that is being told to the American people who are going down the drain,” he said.
Alden’s potential takeover of Tribune was vehemently rejected by many journalists in Tribune newspapers. Alden has aggressively cut costs on many of the MediaNews Group’s publications, including The Denver Post and The San Jose Mercury News. Critics say the hedge fund is sacrificing journalistic quality for higher profits, while Alden argues that it is saving paper that would otherwise join the thousands who went out of business over the past two decades.
Wyss, 85, said he was inspired in part by an opinion piece in the New York Times last year on Mr. Bainum in which two Chicago Tribune reporters, David Jackson and Gary Marx, warned against buying Alden too a “ghost version” of The Chicago Tribune – a newspaper that can no longer fulfill its essential watchdog mission. “Both reporters have left the paper since this article was published.
Born in Bern, Wyss first visited the United States in 1958 as an exchange student and worked for the Colorado Highway Department. As a young man he was a journalist, he said and reported on skiing for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a Zürcher Zeitung and submitting programs on American sports to Der Bund, a Bernese newspaper, when he was studying at Harvard Business School.
He said he believed the Chicago Tribune would thrive under his estate.
“Maybe I’m naive,” said Wyss, “but the combination of giving a professional staff enough money to do the right things and putting some money into the digital world makes it a very profitable newspaper after all.”