New technology, excellence and 'world class' plans: An exciting insight into Sunderland's potential new American owners

‘We seek out excellence in all we undertake.’

Tuesday, 1st October 2019, 12:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st October 2019, 17:34 pm

MSD Partners - the investment firm overseen by Glenn Fuhrman, John Phelan and Robert Platek - are selective in their choices.

It should come as a compliment, therefore, that they are eyeing a move for Sunderland AFC.

The American trio are in talks with Stewart Donald over a takeover of the club, with clarity on the deal expected within the next fortnight.

Stewart Donald

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But what have they done in the business world in the past, and where do they tend to prioritise investment?

We take a look:

THE BACKGROUND

Fuhrman, Phelan and Platek are involved with MSD Partners - the former two as co-managing partners and founders and the latter as a partner.

It’s important to clarify, though, that Sunderland’s takeover will not be facilitated through MSD Partners. Instead, it will come from a separate entity which has the trio as directors and has been registered at Companies House as ‘FPP Sunderland Limited’.

But still, there is plenty to be learned from MSD Partners’ approach to investment and what that could mean for Sunderland in the future.

Indeed, by looking at MSD Partners’ online investment prospectus, it’s clear to see what Phelan and Fuhrman - as founders - prioritise, and where they look to improve businesses.

WHAT DO THEY LOOK FOR INVESTMENT?

Fuhrman, Phelan and Platek tend to look at much more than purely a financial return when weighing-up which companies they will look to invest in.

Key to the trio is reputation. Naturally, as such well-respected individuals in the business world, they want to ensure their standing is maintained.

Reputation is described as MSD Partners’ ‘primary asset’ and among the guidelines the group follow when they look for opportunities is whether the deal will boost their standing.

Indeed, their key principles state that ‘investing our reputation is as important as investing our capital’.

One key quote in the prospectus states that the group ‘seek out excellence in all we undertake’ - which should come as a compliment to the Black Cats.

Interestingly, the group’s last big money investment was a purchase of the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida - a $875million purchase that aligned the group with another luxury and high-profile brand.

Prestige is clearly key for Phelan, Fuhrman and Platek.

GRAND PLANS

The trio are forward-thinking and their work with MSD Partners has allowed many of their clients and partners to really make their mark in the modern age.

Take UFC, for example, whose broadcast and merchandising revenues have grown significantly since the American investors became involved - with the martial arts brand now one of the fastest-growing in the world.

Technology is a key driver for the group, with their prospectus stating that they ‘understand and value the importance of technology and are constantly looking for ways to utilize technology to make MSD more efficient and productive.’.

It’s not all about technology, either, with the investors keen to appoint ‘ world-class individuals’ to the brands they manage. Derek Jeter - a baseball legend and now CEO of the Miami Marlins - is a prime example.

And they don’t allow businesses to stand still, either.

MSD Partners claim that they ‘constantly seek to improve in all our endeavors’ - of which UFC are a key example.

An aggressive marketing strategy has led to vastly-increased brand awareness and profits - with the mixed martial arts franchise seeing profits soar as a result.

BUSINESS STYLE

This is where there is some inconsistency in MSD Partners’ approach.

Naturally, Furhman, Phelan and Platek cannot be involved in a hands-on role in all the business they opt to invest in.

However, MSD Partners’ prospectus claims that they always require ‘control over investment decisions’ which they believe ‘is essential to our style of doing business.’.

Final say on financial matters, therefore, tends to fall to them.

And while big brands tend to be eyed by the trio, they won’t allow self-confidence to get in the way of success.

They believe that all involved in their projects should ‘continually remind themselves of our limitations and dedicate themselves to the avoidance of hubris’, insisting that ‘hubris is one of the only things that can make us fail.’.

They make no bold promises or overwhelming claims - instead focusing purely on realistic targets both in the short and long-term.

There are three core values prioritised by the Americans too, with MSD Partners valuing ‘passion, commitment and enthusiasm’ above all else.

THE FUTURE

One phrase crops up time and time again throughout all MSD Partners’ literature: ‘long-term’.

The group aren’t in the business of taking over a struggling enterprise, making some quick changes and then selling it on for a profit.

They prefer to take a longer-term view to things, with the group’s mission statement saying the seek: “investments that consistently generate attractive risk-adjusted returns over the long-term.”

All their previous investments also point to the fact that the investors themselves will remain involved - and won’t move on in the short-term.

Steady growth is the aim of the game, and they have thus far delivered significant results following a number of investments in both the sporting and business world.