Lives in Wyoming. Between the vast plains and Rocky Mountains of the West of the United States. But born under the Alps, in Switzerland. As a young man he dreamed of being a journalist and, in the spare time left by his studies, he tried to tell the ski races for New Zurich newspaper, a Zurich newspaper. Then, after moving to the United States in 1958 – following a study trip for the Colorado Highway department – he tried again by sending dispatches on American sports to The Bund, a newspaper from Bern. In reality, in life, Hansjrg Wyss has then done something else: entrepreneur, billionaire, environmentalist convinced enough to have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the defense of nature (who has counted his contributions reached one billion dollars distributed in the last decade with its Wyss Campaign for Nature). But the reporter no, he never did. Now, for, at 85 – as the New York Times, that obsession with the press returned to him. With an idea, if you like, from other times: investing in newspapers. From aspiring journalist to environmental editor, therefore, competing with a New York fund, also strong in the wealth accumulated over the years and in particular after, ten years ago, in 2012, he managed to sell the medical device company Synthes which he had founded at the giant Johnson & Johnson (yes, the one we are talking about today especially for the expected vaccines) for about 20 billion dollars.
The new adventure at 85
At 85, therefore, Wyss has decided to start another challenge. Because if I win it – he explained – I have the opportunity to do 500 times more than what I’m doing now. For the environment, of course, but also for journalism. A few days ago he announced that he had agreed to join Stewart W. Bainum Jr. – a Maryland entrepreneur and owner of the Choice Hotels International hotel chain – in the bid for Tribune Publishing, a publishing group that publishes nine newspapers: Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Sun-Sentinel (from South Florida), Daily Press (Virginia) e The Virginian-Pilot , The Morning Call (Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania) e l’Hartford Courant. The goal is to exceed the offer of Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund based in Manhattan, which through its subsidiary MediaNews group has numerous stakes in publishing companies – including those that publish The Denver Post e The San Jose Mercury News — and 32% of Tribune Publishing: hence the goal of taking over the entire group which, a month ago, seemed to have been achieved with an offer for the remainder of the shares at $ 17.25 each, for a overall valuation of the publishing company of $ 630 million.
La sfida all’hedge fund
That plan, however, provided that The Baltimore Sun and two other Maryland newspapers were shot for $ 65 million in Bainum, the businessman so tied to his land – despite being the head of an international hotel chain – that he wanted to buy the leading newspapers. But, after the start of the negotiations, the negotiations ran aground. And so Bainum on March 16 decided to raise the offer for the entire Tribune Publishing group to $ 18.50 per share, valuing it as a total of 650 million. And now, in Bainum, the Swiss billionaire who cares so much for the environment has also decided to join him. The operation, to be completed, requires not only the positive vote of the company’s shareholders who represent two thirds of the shares that do not belong to Alden Global Capital; but also the approval of the competent authorities. The forecasts are that the sale cannot end before July. And the outcome is by no means predictable: the company’s board of directors has recommended shareholders to approve the hedge fund’s offer, waiting to see if Bainum will be able to finance its highest offer. But the possible take all of the Alden fund instead feared by the journalists of the nine newspapers: the fund, in fact, preceded by the fame of cost cutting in all the publications of the MediaNews Group. The accusation against the Manhattan fund is that of sacrificing journalistic quality to obtain greater profits; the defense that in this way newspapers are saved that otherwise would have closed, as happened for so many publications in the last two decades.
Inspiration from journalists
How are things really? Wyss, in this, seems to have clear ideas. Inspired – he said so clearly – by an intervention hosted by New York Times of two journalists of the Chicago Tribune, David Jackson and Gary Marx: with the Alden fund, they explained the two signatures (who then left the newspaper) the Chicago Tribune would become a ghost newspaper, unable to carry out its supervisory mission. Words that struck Wyss and that, probably, have awakened that journalist who has been with him ever since he was timing the times of ski races. Perhaps it will be naive – Wyss pointed out to explain this new challenge launched at 85 – but I think that investing resources in professional staff to do the right things, as well as investing in digital, will ultimately make the Chicago Tribune a very profitable newspaper. And it will be useful for the battle it has always fought to protect the environment and, why not, also for the future of journalism. From the Rocky Mountains to the Alps.