People in the News: All That Glitters

Paul Allen wins the Super Bowl, Vladimir Potanin and Paul Singer go for gold, Bob Diamond takes a shine to Africa and more.


Paul Allen’s Revenge of the Nerd

February was quite a month for Microsoft’s two co-founders: Bill Gates announced he was stepping down as chairman of the Redmond, Washington–based software giant, and Paul Allen’s Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in their second trip to the NFL championship — both under Allen, who bought the team in 1997. Worth an estimated $15 billion, he’s had little to do with Microsoft since 1983, the year after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But the once-reclusive tycoon has raised his public profile lately. The night of the Seahawks’ victory, he partied into the evening and performed with his band, Paul Allen and the Underthinkers. His film company co-produced the 2013 nuclear power documentary Pandora’s Promise, a sleeper hit on college campuses. Allen, 61, whose family office is named Vulcan, is also seeking to perfect private space travel by developing a commercial air-launch-to-orbit vehicle. Being Paul Allen is looking pretty good right now. Where’s Gates’s Vince Lombardi Trophy? — Imogen Rose-Smith

Paul Singer: In Gold He Trusts

Gold has been something of a hedge fund manager’s graveyard of late, but it has a surprising champion in Paul Singer. Or at least Singer, founder of New York–based, $23 billion hedge fund firm Elliott Management, likes gold relative to Bitcoin, the controversial new Internet currency. “There is no more reason to believe that bitcoin will stand the test of time than that governments will protect the value of government-created money, although bitcoin is newer and we always look at babies with hope,” the GOP backer wrote in his January letter to investors. Singer prefers gold, which fetched $1,290 an ounce in mid-February, down 32 percent from its 2011 peak of $1,900. “It has stood the test of thousands of years as a store of value and medium of exchange,” he noted in the letter. “Better yet, it is not just a computer entry in the ether somewhere, and it is currently available at a good price.” — I.R.-S.

Ben Bernanke’s New Job

Ben Bernanke has landed. In early February, just three days after the U.S. Senate confirmed Janet Yellen as his successor, two-term Federal Reserve chairman Bernanke got a new gig: distinguished fellow in residence at the Brookings Institution as part of the Washington-based think tank’s economic studies program. He’s affiliated with the new Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy, established with $10 million from the foundation of Brookings board vice chairman Glenn Hutchins. Co-founder of $20 billion U.S. private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, a former adviser to president Bill Clinton and a DNC contributor, Hutchins has endowed the institute to study the dual roles of fiscal and monetary policy and the interplay between them — something Bernanke, 60, having just spent eight years helping keep the U.S. economy afloat, knows a thing or two about. “One of the reasons he came to Brookings was because he is looking for a good place to write a book and get feedback,” says Hutchins Center director David Wessel. The likely topic of Bernanke’s forthcoming book: the financial crisis. — I.R.-S.


Slippery Slope with Vladimir Potanin

Russian President Vladimir Putin was hard to miss at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but another host kept a much lower profile: Vladimir Potanin, 53, the metals and banking billionaire who built alpine skiing venue Roza Khutor. Russia’s seventh-richest man, with a net worth of $14.3 billion, according to Forbes, Potanin had good reason for discretion. Even before the Games began, he admitted that his lush new resort would have to renegotiate the $2.2 billion it borrowed from state-owned Vnesheconombank. Roza Khutor started with high hopes: Potanin once boasted that he and Putin dreamed it up while skiing together in Austria. But the project ballooned to four times its original budget of $596 million, infected by the spending fever that made Sochi the costliest Olympics ever, at around $50 billion. Now Potanin’s optimism is qualified. “We consider that this will be a commercially successful project under the condition that we get a certain measure of support from the state,” he told Russian news site — Craig Mellow

Kathy Patrick Is Legally Bond

One of Kathy Patrick’s earliest courtroom victories came in 1980, when she won a case against the Miss USA pageant after it tried to revoke her Miss New Mexico USA title over residency questions. The proceeds from that settlement helped fund her JD studies at Harvard Law School. Almost three decades after 53-year-old Patrick’s graduation, her winnings at Houston-based law firm Gibbs & Bruns total in the billions of dollars. On January 30 the New York State Supreme Court affirmed her $8.5 billion settlement of June 2011 against Bank of America on behalf of 22 institutions, including BlackRock, MetLife and Pacific Investment Management Co., that invested in 530 residential mortgage bond trusts backed by defaulted loans issued by Countrywide Financial. Analysts have called the case a sign that the mortgage problems behind much of the 2008–’09 financial crisis are still a bugbear for banks. Patrick’s verdict: “This is an important milestone for our clients.” — Anne Szustek

Mehmet Simsek’s Turkish De-Fright

The Turkish lira didn’t wake up to 2014 with such a fresh face, having lost roughly a third of its value against the dollar during the previous eight months as worries about the country’s current-account deficit grew. The lira’s slide accelerated after December 17, catalyzed by an antigraft probe involving several high-ranking government officials. Finance minister Mehmet Simsek sought to shore up support for the currency in a presentation to investors in London last month. “There is a campaign against the government in the disguise of corruption investigations,” the former Merrill Lynch economist, 47, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. As of February 17 the lira had recovered to 2.18 to the dollar from its low of 2.33 in late January, after the Turkish central bank jacked up its one-week repo rate by 5.5 points, to 10 percent. Avid Twitter user Simsek continued to talk up the currency: “In January gold imports fell 81 percent to 6 tons from a year ago, when the monthly average was 25 tons,” he tweeted in Turkish on February 8. “The current-account deficit is shrinking!” — A.S.

What About Bob [Diamond]?

While his successor at Barclays fends off criticism of the U.K. bank’s bonuses, Bob Diamond is taking on an entire continent. Diamond, 62, resigned as CEO of Barclays, where Antony Jenkins is now at the helm, in July 2012 on the heels of the Libor fixing scandal. Last December the American resurfaced with the IPO of Atlas Mara Co-Nvest, a joint venture between his New York–based Atlas Merchant Capital and Ugandan businessman Ashish Thakkar’s Mara Group. The deal raised $325 million to invest in African financial services. During a recent visit to Lagos, Nigeria, Diamond talked to reporters about his plans to build lending capacity on the underserviced continent, with an eye for agricultural credit. He and Thakkar have each put $20 million of their own cash into Atlas Mara. In late December the firm revealed that Owl Creek Asset Management, the New York–based hedge fund firm run by Jeffrey Altman, held 8 percent voting rights. — Ben Baris