10 Trophy Investments of Billionaires
From ridiculous cat-themed websites to one of the most admired magazines in the country, these beloved but financially dubious purchases only emphasize how much money a mogul can waste.
James Cameron’s exploitation, er, homage to the historic maritime tragedy is about to get one-upped. Apparently left wanting from the on-screen experience, eccentric Australian billionaire Clive Palmer will soon be allowing travelers the opportunity to enjoy the Titanic in 3D, without the glasses -- or a scuba mask.
The mining magnate is doing the next best thing to resurrecting the shipwreck from the bottom of the Atlantic: He’s rebuilding it from scratch.
Palmer’s new tourism venture Blue Star Line Pty Ltd, with assistance from state-owned Chinese company CSC Jinling Shipyard, will construct a replica that promises to nail all the details, minus those that proved a little death-trappy for the original passengers. The ship should be ready to sail in 2016. “It is going to be designed so it won't sink,” said Palmer.
Hmm. Where have we heard that before? Really, how authentic is this thing supposed to get?
(Also see: Australian Billionaire Rebuilding the Titanic With China's Help.)
The Electric Barbarellas|
All-girl electronic pop groups usually aren’t an octogenarian's cup of tea. But Sumner Redstone isn’t most octogenarians.
The 89-year-old media tycoon, who serves as CEO of Viacom (VIA) and is a majority owner in CBS Corporation (CBS), was such a fan of the Electric Barbarellas -- described as “a cross between the Pussycat Dolls and Spice Girls, except raunchier and not as musically gifted” -- that he dreamt up a reality show chronicling their attempted rise to starlettdom and strong-armed MTV into green-lighting it. (The show ran for a single season last year.)
Sumner’s investment in the band, including a half million dollars just to fly the six members to various record label meetings, angered a number of Viacom insiders. His granting of company stock to frontwoman Heather Naylor, who later sold her shares for $157,000, also drew criticism for loosening Viacom’s strict option grants restrictions for his own personal interests.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it only takes one rich guy to support a presidential candidate.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Super PACs are America’s new reality in the race for President. And thanks to Las Vegas Sands (LVS) CEO Sheldon Adelson, Republican Newt Gingrich got to stay in it a whole lot longer.
The casino tycoon and eighth-richest man in America will go down in history as one of the biggest players in the 2012 election, having contributed $20 million of his $24.9 billion fortune to the pro-Gingrich Super PAC, Winning Our Future. Now, since the former Speaker of the House has dropped his presidential bid, Adelson is reportedly ready to start helping Mitt Romney fill his campaign coffers.
Billionaire Richard Branson's flights of fancy include interstellar space travel, so it’s not much of a stretch to hear that he has a land deed to a tropical paradise. In 1978, at the tender age of 28, while many of us were still paying off our student loans, Branson was buying his own private island. Two years and $10 million later, the uninhabited 74-acre oasis in the British Virgin Islands, called Necker Island, became the Virgin Group founder’s full-service luxury retreat.
Dozens of celebrities own islands -- from Johnny Depp to David Copperfield to Pamela Anderson -- but what makes Branson’s unique is that we, too, can stroll on its white sandy beaches and swim in its turquoise waters. That’s assuming we have five figures to blow on our next vacation. Individual villas on Necker Island start at $26,850 for a seven-night stay. Or you can rent out the whole place (which can accommodate 28 guests) for $42,500 per night. Not too bad if everyone chips in.
I Want to Draw a Cat For You|
Counting the cable channel HDNet, Landmark Theatres, Magnolia Pictures, and the NBA-champion Dallas Mavericks among your investments -- and having sold billion-dollar companies to Yahoo (YHOO) and AOL (AOL) -- it only makes sense to add to your portfolio a website that sells personalized stick-figure drawings of cats.
Mark Cuban, the “serial entrepreneur” and Forbes’ 459th richest person in the world, is also the proud owner of one-third of the Internet company I Want to Draw a Cat For You. Earlier this year, during a third season episode of the ABC reality show Shark Tank, the world watched as Cuban, from his leather wingback chair, saw a “mad genius” in Steve Gadlin and invested $25,000 for 33% of his cartoon cat business.
It was a savvy business move. Since Cuban’s involvement, I Want to Draw a Cat For You has partnered with Castlespring Enterprises, the product manufacturer for Hasbro (HAS), Disney (DIS), and Toys R Us, to create a line of branded products that is slated for distribution later this year.
What should you do when your home NFL team threatens to move to another city? Buy it yourself, naturally.
In 1997, when Kenneth Behring was ready to relocate his Seattle Seahawks to Southern California, Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder, philanthropist, and football fan Paul Allen nipped that plan right in the bud. Although depending on who you ask, it may not have exactly been Allen’s idea, but instead came at the urging of local politicians and business leaders begging him to save Seattle's team.
The acquisition made Allen a professional sports franchise owner twice over, with his maiden ball club investment in the Portland Trail Blazers. He remains the top American billionaire team owner, behind only Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov of the New Jersey Nets.
The New Republic|
You could say that Facebook (FB) co-founder Chris Hughes got out at the right time, but then you have to look at where he went. The social network’s value may be sinking through the floor... but as a media company, it’ll never be worth less than a venture in the publishing industry.
However, when the 28-year-old billionaire-to-be decided to buy a majority stake in the already-struggling left-leaning rag The New Republic this spring, money wasn’t his motivation. Instead, Hughes was driven by a love of serious journalism and thoughtful opinion, as unprofitable as they may prove in today’s sensationalized, link-baiting, SEO-obsessed media landscape.
In a letter to his readers, Hughes invoked the original mission of the nearly century-old magazine and pledged to stay true to it. “It seems that today too many media institutions chase superficial metrics of online virality at the expense of investing in rigorous reporting and analysis of the most important stories of our time,” he wrote. “When few people are investing in media institutions with such bold aims as ‘enlightenment to the problems of the nation,’ I believe we must.”
Guinness World Records|
Remember when you were young and in awe of the crazy things you read in the Guinness World Records, and you thought to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could one day get to make it into the records book?”
Well, Vancouver-based business mogul Jim Pattison didn’t get to do that, so he went one step further: Through his holding company Jim Pattison Group, which owns (among other things) the Overwaitea Food Group and Select Media Services, he bought the entire Guinness World Records franchise in 2008, effectively making him the ultimate arbiter of kooky records around the world.
The 83-year-old billionaire entrepreneur clearly has a taste for the offbeat: In addition to owning the Guinness World Records franchise, he also bought the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchise in 1985, creating, as his son and Ripley’s president Jim Pattison Jr. said in a statement in 2008, “an historic combination of the world-leading authorities on records and record-breaking, and all that is unbelievable.” Want to bet that Pattison secretly has a Madame Tussauds wax figure of himself stashed away somewhere in his basement?
The Millennial generation has seen a boom in the number of college-educated farmers. You know the type: Hipster, concerned with all things artisanal, local, and organic. It’s an understandable idealistic reaction to the perceived excesses of the corporate world. What is rare, though, is for a septuagenarian no-nonsense businessman like Frank Stronach to suddenly develop a passion for grass-fed cattle.
In the last two years, Stronach, who founded auto parts company Magna International, has been buying up land in Florida (70,000 acres so far) with the intention of using it to start an enormous cattle ranch, where hormone-free, grass-fed cattle will have plenty of space to roam.
It’s certainly a contradiction: Organic, grass-fed beef is typically associated with small, local farms, but Stronach is hoping to create the first industrial-sized yet holistic cattle farm. Considering that Stronach is also a big-time racehorse breeder, it looks like the Austrian-Canadian is serious about his latest venture. Time will tell if it will be successful.
- With files by Sterling Wong
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