‘Low key’ billionaire eyes Steelers
Next time you’re at Heinz Field watching the Steelers, the boisterous fan next to you with his face painted black and gold, the guy so into the game he high-fives anyone next to him, might be a multibillionaire who can quote poet T.S. Eliot and spends his free time working with poor kids in Harlem.
He also might own the Steelers.
At the fringe of the Rooney family feud over future ownership of the famed NFL franchise, Stanley Freeman Druckenmiller, 55, reportedly has offered to buy all or part of the team — although neither he nor his officers in the $4 billion Duquesne Capital Management venture fund he started in 1982 will comment.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that a deal could be reached within days to sell a majority interest in the Steelers to Druckenmiller, taking control of the franchise away from the Rooney family.
Two officials familiar with the talks said the deal could be completed by the end of the week. Sources told the Associated Press that Druckenmiller wants to include Dan and Art Roooney II in his ownership group.
Even if the deal with Druckenmiller goes through, it would still need approval by 24 of the league’s 32 owners.
Friends, golfing buddies at Oakmont Country Club and those who directly benefited from his charity describe Druckenmiller as a humble but complex man of middle-class roots who rabidly roots for the Steelers when he’s not orchestrating lucrative global capital schemes.
Golf handicapâ¢ Nine. And he’s been a member of Oakmont Country Club for three decades. He flips delicious pancakes. He earned degrees in English literature and economics from elite Bowdoin College in Maine, where fellow students recalled him as a genius who was destined to be a professor.
Long married to fellow financial wiz Fiona Biggs Druckenmiller, he believes strongly that his three children should live normal lives akin to his upbringing in the Philadelphia suburbs. Close friends claim he’s “brilliant” and “complicated” and unfailingly loyal, a man who hates publicity but who quietly bankrolls many of the nation’s top charities.
“With Stanley Druckenmiller, it’s family first. I’d like to say friends come second, but the truth, and he’ll kill me for saying this, is that I’d never come between him and a Steelers’ game, and I’d like to think of myself as a pretty good friend,” said Geoffrey Canada with a laugh.
Canada is president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone, where Druckenmiller, a New York City resident, chairs the board of directors. Its mission: Provide social services and education programs to thousands of families and their children in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods.
About once a week, Druckenmiller arrives to work with kids, something Canada says reflects just how “deeply, deeply involved and passionate” Druckenmiller can be.
According to Canada, Druckenmiller has long termed the Steelers’ franchise the “best run in America.” He high-fives fans in neighboring seats after particularly stellar plays. He grows morose when the Steelers lose.
“I remember he once thanked Dan Rooney for having winning seasons. I can appreciate that because people don’t know what it’s like to live with Stan when they’re losing. I’m telling you, there is no bigger fan of the Steelers than Stanley Druckenmiller.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Druckenmiller has offered to retain Dan Rooney as the Steelers’ manager.
Son of a DuPont labor relations representative, Druckenmiller moved often during his childhood. He prepped at Richmond’s prestigious Collegiate School, then graduated from Bowdoin in 1975. Twenty-two years later, he’d give the college $35.6 million to revamp the science building, which bears his name.
Instead of finishing advanced degrees in economics at the University of Michigan, he took a job with Pittsburgh National Bank, today’s PNC. There he researched stocks before bolting to found his own firm, Duquesne Capital, in 1981. He was 28.
Gravitating to Wall Street, in 1985 he started selling his brainpower part time to mutual fund giant Dreyfus Corp., today a subsidiary of the Bank of New York/ Mellon Financial Corp. In 1988, when he wed Fiona Biggs — a Dreyfus securities analyst and niece of former Morgan Stanley boss Barton Biggs — he was running the legendary fund. That same year, he made another marriage of sorts. He forged a partnership with currency speculator and Hungarian-American hedge fund guru George Soros.
In a series of Financial World magazine profiles throughout the 1990s, Druckenmiller was described as a shark poker player who teamed with Soros to engineer highly complex derivatives and currency speculation runs.
Their crowning achievement: breaking the Bank of England in 1992, when London refused to devalue the pound. Selling the currency short reaped the duo more than $1 billion in windfalls, but the financial meltdown became known as “Black Wednesday” in the UK. In 2000, they walked away from the partnership.
While Soros is a well-known bankroller of liberal causes, Druckenmiller and his wife give heavily to both Republican and Democratic candidates and causes. According to federal filings, since 1992 the Druckenmillers have doled out more than $840,000, with 68 percent of it going to Republicans.
Although they’ve written $192,000 worth of checks during the past three years to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Druckenmiller funneled $250,000 to fellow billionaire Mike Bloomberg to jump-start the New York mayor’s potential 2008 Republican run for president.
Fiona Druckenmiller put $2,300 down on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007. But her husband recently gave $4,600 to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also helping his former GOP challenger Mitt Romney with $2,300.
According to Forbes Magazine, Druckenmiller today is worth about $3.5 billion, perhaps three or four times the value of the Steelers if it went up for sale. But he never forgot Pittsburgh.
He returns for the Steelers. And a half-dozen times every year he plays a round at Oakmont Country Club. No one at Oakmont would speak on the record, but it’s well understood that he paid for the club’s pedestrian span built in 2003, called “Druckenmiller Bridge.” That ended a simmering dispute with the PGA that threatened to block tournaments at Oakmont.
Before the U.S. Open last year, Tiger Woods played a round with him, and today a season-long match tournament at the club is named in his honor for returning the pro tour to Pittsburgh. His reputation in the locker room: unfailingly polite, humble, and he never, ever cheats.
Frank Fuhrer, whose locker is five down from Druckenmiller’s, has known him for nearly 30 years. Fuhrer says he’s “very low key, very pleasant to be around.”
“He’s just incredible. He’s as solid a citizen and as solid an American as there ever was. When he makes friends, he makes them for life. He didn’t go to New York and forget about the guys back in Pittsburgh,” said Oakmont’s head golf pro, Bob Ford. “I told Tiger that Druck is to Wall Street what he is to golf.”
During the Open, Kevin Gray, 31, a Kiski Valley native, got a chance to shake Druckenmiller’s hand. Now working in Indianapolis in publishing, Gray had caddied at Oakmont from 1993-99, one of a gaggle of teens there who worked hard and made decent grades. When it came time to go to college, a scholarship funded by Druckenmiller gave Gray $11,000, enough to help him afford three years of classes in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
“I was very, very grateful, all those years. I finally got to meet him. I came back to the Open last year, and there he was. He was wearing one of the name tags members get, the special pass. I went over to tell him what he had done for me. You wouldn’t know that he was a wealthy man. He stood there like he was any other fan. Very low key, very humble.
“I told him that because of him, I got to go to college. He was just what I thought he would be. A nice guy.”